Netflix claims about priest linked to Wexford

By Maria Pepper
Wexford People
May 27, 2017

Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik .

A new Netflix documentary series 'The Keepers' which was released last weekend, has broadcast harrowing descriptions of sex abuse allegedly carried out by the deceased American priest, Fr. Joseph Maskell who spent over three years living in Wexford where he worked as a psychologist for the former South Eastern Health Board.

During his time in Wexford from approximately late 1994 to 1998, Fr. Maskell lived in Castlebridge and worked for about eight months as a clinical psychologist for the SEHB (now the Health Service Executive) which referred children to him for assessment. He later spent about three years in private practice at an office in Common Quay Street.

During his stay, the Diocese of Ferns became aware of his activities and contacted the Archdiocese of Baltimore for information, subsequently notifying the SEHB and the gardai about the risks of him having access to children.

The HSE has refused to release any information about Fr. Maskell due to a data protection policy relating to current and former employees although at the time, it informed the Diocese that Fr. Maskell had given an assurance not to work with anyone under the age of 18.

During the 7-episode documentary investigation by Netflix, there are heartrending testimonies from two former schoolgirls at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore who have alleged that they suffered sickening abuse by Fr. Maskella when they were teenagers. He served as chaplain there for several years.

The documentary also links the Baltimore priest as a suspect in the 1969 murder of 26-years old teaching nun Sister Catherine Cesnik. Two months after she disappeared, her body was found in a rubbish dump with evidence of blunt force trauma to the head.

Baltimore County Policy Department has released a statement confirming that it is carrying out a cold case inquiry into the murder of the nun whose killer was never found despite a major investigation at the time which continued up to 1977 when the case became dormant.

In 1992 the first allegations of sex abuse against Fr. A. Joseph Maskell were made by two former female students of Keough High School. These allegations fell under the jurisdiction of Baltimore City Policy.

In 1994, the year that Maskell is believed to have surfaced in Wexford, the two students were listed as plaintiffs in a $40 million law suit alleging sexual abuse at the school by Fr. Maskell. One student alleged that Maskell took her to Sister Cesnik's body and threatened her. According to the County Policy statement, detectives noted inconsistencies in her account. Maskell was not considered a prime suspect at this time but was interviewed at length. He died in 2001.

In 1994, detectives began to take a fresh look at the Sister Cesnik case, in light of the emergence of DNA technology. A DNA profile was created from evidence found at the scene and over the following years, it was compared with the profiles of about half a dozen suspects with negative results.

In 2016,, the Archdiocese of Baltimore acknowledged that settlements to people alleging abuse by Fr. Maskell had been paid since 2011. Also in 2016, Baltimore County Police Department re-assigned the Sister Cesnik case due to the retirement of previous detectives.

Activity on the case intensified as victims of sexual abuse discussed information about Sister Cesnik's circle, including Fr. Maskell. Numerous interviews were conducted. One living suspect was -re-interviewed.

Between February 2011 and January of this year, detectives have also explored three similar unsolved murders for possible connections to the Sister Cesnik case.

In February 2017, after securing an order signed by the Baltimore County State Attorney, detectives exhumed Maskell's body from a local cemetery to obtain a DNA sample for comparison with the known sample. The police department announced last week that results showed the sample taken from Fr. Maskell's remains did not match the DNA from the murder scene.

'The negative results from the maskell DNA profile comparision mean that the best hope of solving the case now lies with people who are still alive and willing to come forward with conclusive information about the murder,' said a spokesman.

Earlier this month, a woman came forward through an attorney and local news outlets, claiming to have been sexually abused in the early 1970's by a deceased Baltimore County Police Officer who was associated with the Sister Cesnik case and with Maskell. When contacted by homicide detectives, the woman declined to be interviewed and wished to stay anonymous.

Wexford people who had dealings with Fr. Maskell during his time here, have been shocked by the allegations about the priest, particularly parents whose children were assessed or counselled by him on referrals by the South Eastern Health Board.


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