Joseph Maskell

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Joseph Maskell
Anthony Joseph Maskell

(1939-04-13)April 13, 1939
DiedMay 7, 2001(2001-05-07) (aged 62)
Stella Maris, Timonium, Maryland
Resting placeHoly Family Cemetery, Randallstown, Baltimore County, Maryland
Other namesA. Joseph Maskell
Tony Maskell
OccupationRoman Catholic priest
Parent(s)Joseph Francis Maskell
Susie Helen Jenkins Maskell

Anthony Joseph Maskell (April 13, 1939 – May 7, 2001) was an American Catholic priest who served the Archdiocese of Baltimore as a counselor from 1965 to 1994. He was removed from the ministry because of sexual abuse toward female students at Archbishop Keough High School from 1969 to 1975. The Netflix documentary The Keepers, released in 2017, alleges Maskell's involvement in the murder of Catherine Cesnik after former high school student and alleged abuse victim, Jean Hargadon Wehner, claimed Maskell showed her Cesnik's body to threaten Wehner into silence. Maskell denied all accusations up to his death in 2001.

Early life[edit]

Anthony Joseph Maskell was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Joseph Francis Maskell and Susie Helen Jenkins, and grew up in Northeast Baltimore.[1] Maskell preferred to be called Joseph in deference to St. Joseph. After graduating from Calvert Hall College High School, Maskell went to St. Mary's Seminary in Roland Park for priesthood training.[2][1] His father died in 1963.

Maskell was ordained on May 22, 1965 at the age of 26. His peers described him as "deeply intelligent" and "fascinated with psychology".[3] In 1972, he earned a master's degree in school psychology from Towson State University, and then a certificate of advanced study in counseling from the Johns Hopkins University.[1]


After his ordination, Maskell worked at Sacred Heart of Mary in Baltimore from 1965 to 1966, and then transferred to St. Clement Church in Lansdowne, Maryland, where he worked from 1966 to 1968, and then to Our Lady of Victory from 1968 to 1970.[4] He simultaneously worked at the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore from 1967 to 1975 as a chaplain and counselor, but was removed from the school by a new headmistress after she received complaints about him from parents.[1] He was transferred to the Division of Schools from 1975 to 1980, and served at Annunciation from 1980 to 1982.[4] He transferred to Holy Cross from 1982 to 1992.[4]

The Archdiocese of Baltimore sent Maskell for treatment at the psychiatric hospital The Institute of Living in Connecticut for abuse from 1992 to 1993.[1][5]

He was finally sent to St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church (Elkridge) from 1993 to 1994 as pastor, before being "prohibited" from the ministry after further abuse allegations surfaced in 1994.[1][6][4]

He also concurrently in his career served as chaplain for the Maryland State Police, the Baltimore County Police Department, the Maryland National Guard, and the Air National Guard where he was a lieutenant colonel.[1] He kept a police scanner and a loaded gun in his car.[7]

Abuse allegations[edit]

Prior to accusations of sexual abuse against female students at Keough High School, Maskell was first accused of abusing Charles Franz, an altar boy at St. Clement Church. Franz and his mother came forward in 1967. Franz claimed Maskell forced him to drink wine and sexually abused him.

The next year, instead of charging or removing Maskell from the ministry, the Archdiocese of Baltimore simply removed him from St. Clement and sent him to a neighboring parish, Our Lady of Victory Church. There, his duties included acting as the moderator of the Catholic Youth Organization. During CYO dances, he frequently left an auxiliary officer from the Baltimore County Police Department to act as security while he went on ride-alongs with other BCPD officers. When sent to Our Lady of Victory, he was also assigned the position of chaplain/counselor at the all-girl Keough High School. While there, his abuse continued and became progressively worse.

Archbishop Keough High School[edit]

Jean Hargadon Wehner, a student at Keough High School, alleged she first confided in Father E. Neil Magnus (1937–1988) in 1968 about sexual abuse she was subjected to at the hands of her uncle when she was a child, beginning at age 14, and continuing from 1968 to 1972.[4][7] Magnus then sexually abused Wehner and blamed her for being promiscuous. Later, Maskell joined in the abuse. Wehner stated she was far more frightened of Maskell, as he was more intimidating and threatening. Maskell repeatedly called her a "whore" and forced her to swallow his semen, claiming she was "receiving the Holy Spirit."[7][8] Other students noted that Maskell kept a gun on him, which he allegedly used to threaten Wehner and other victims.[citation needed]

Teresa Lancaster, another alleged victim at Keough High School, stated that on Halloween night of 1970, Maskell drove her to a popular location where students gathered. Two police officers arrived and directed other students to leave, then raped Lancaster while Maskell waited outside the car.[9]

Murder of Catherine Cesnik[edit]

In 1969, toward the end of the school year, Wehner allegedly confided about the abuse to Catherine Cesnik, a popular nun among the students. Cesnik promised she would help, but she then transferred along with her friend, Sister Helen Russell Phillips, to Western High School for a public school outreach teaching program.[10] Cesnik disappeared on November 7, 1969, and her body was eventually discovered on January 3, 1970. Four days after Cesnik's disappearance, 20-year-old Joyce Malecki also disappeared in a nearby region. Wehner alleged that shortly after Cesnik's disappearance, Maskell took her to see Cesnik's decomposing body in a wooded area and stated, "You see what happens when you say bad things about people?"[11]


In 1992, the first sexual abuse allegation against Maskell was made public by Wehner. He was removed from the ministry that year, and sent for evaluation and "treatment" at The Institute of Living. He was reinstated in 1993 after the Archdiocese claimed it was unable to corroborate the allegation through an internal investigation.

On September 8, 1993, criminal charges regarding the allegation were filed through Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler III. The lawsuit was dropped after the court rejected repressed memories as a scientifically proven memory mechanism.[12]

In 1994, another lawsuit was filed by Wehner, this time with Teresa Lancaster and four others, this time including allegations against gynecologist Christian Richter, who engaged in abuse with Maskell. Lawyers representing the Archdiocese were able to have the second lawsuit dropped due to the statute of limitations.

Maskell was removed from the ministry on July 31, 1994.[13] That same year, following these allegations, Maskell fled to Wexford, Ireland, and was placed on "temporary leave". He was ordered not to perform any of his priestly duties. However, Maskell continued to practice psychology. According to Teresa Lancaster, "We do have word that there are two victims coming forward in Ireland."[14]

Roman Catholic Diocese of Ferns was not made aware of Maskell's presence in Ireland by the Archdiocese, and it was only discovered after Maskell performed Mass without approval. Ferns Diocese kept a file on Maskell dating from April 19, 1995, to September 22, 1998. On June 25, 1996, Ferns Diocese, after requesting information from Baltimore regarding Maskell, was informed that he was placed on leave following accusations of sexual abuse and his whereabouts were unknown to the Archdiocese.[15]


Maskell returned to the United States in 1998. He claimed his innocence until his death due to a stroke on May 7, 2001. Maskell's body was exhumed on February 28, 2017, prior to the release of The Keepers, for DNA testing involving the murder of Cathy Cesnik. Maskell DNA tests did not match the DNA profile from 1970.[16] Though never formally charged, the Archdiocese of Baltimore had settled with 16 of Maskell's possible victims for a total of $472,000.[17]

HSE Investigation in Ireland[edit]

In July 2017, the Health Service Executive in Ireland opened an investigation into the employment of Father Maskell.[18] As of October 2019, the HSE refused to offer any timeframe for the investigation.[18] Abbie Schaub, a former student of Sister Cesnik expressed frustration that the HSE refused to release documentation to her concerning how the priest was hired by the Eastern Health Board in 1995.[18] She said: "Fr Maskell’s employment, working with youngsters for the Irish health board, after he fled a trial for sexual abuse of minors in America, is cause for public concern. If there were problems in the background check system, these should be discussed and corrected."[18]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Priest at once defended, excoriated," The Baltimore Sun.
  2. ^ Robert A. Erlandson and Joe Nawrozki, "Priest at once defended, excoriated", The Baltimore Sun, August 3, 1984.
  3. ^ John Meagher (2017-06-11). "On the dark trail of Fr Joseph Maskell, subject of 'The Keepers' documentary who fled US amid child abuse allegations". Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  4. ^ a b c d e Baltimore (2019-02-15). "List Of Maryland Priests Accused Of Child Sexual Abuse | Baltimore, MD Patch". Patch. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  5. ^ Erlandson, Robert (16 Dec 1994). "Maskell resigns as pastor". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
  6. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions Based on "The Keepers"". Archdiocese of Baltimore. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c "What happened to Father Joseph Maskell, the abusive priest from Netflix's 'The Keepers'?". Cosmopolitan. 2017-12-08. Retrieved 2020-05-07.
  8. ^ White, Ryan (2017). "The Keepers". Netflix. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  9. ^ Nugent, Tom (2014-10-01). "Did the Catholic Church Get Away with Murder?". Inside Baltimore. Retrieved 2018-01-22.
  10. ^ "Timeline: The Sister Catherine Cesnik Case". The Baltimore Sun. May 19, 2017. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  11. ^ Bassett, Laura (May 14, 2015). "Buried in Baltimore: The Mysterious Murder of a Nun Who Knew Too Much". The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 20, 2017.
  12. ^ Roger Luckhurst (17 June 2013). The Trauma Question. Routledge. pp. 33–. ISBN 978-1-136-01502-1.
  13. ^ "Bishop Malooly responds to "The Keepers"". Retrieved 2018-01-22.
  14. ^ Simon Carswell (2 June 2017). "HSE investigates activities of US priest featured in Netflix series". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  15. ^ Pepper, Maria (2017-05-16). "Priest in nun murder documentary worked in Wexford as psychologist". Enniscorthy Guardian. Retrieved 2018-01-22.
  16. ^ Boyette, Chris (17 May 2017). "Priest's DNA does not match profile from slain nun". CNN. Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  17. ^ Knezevich, Alison (6 June 2017). "'Keepers' priest Maskell spent time in Ireland, now under scrutiny". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2018-01-19.
  18. ^ a b c d Ó Fátharta, Conall (28 October 2019). "No end in sight for HSE investigation into 'Netflix priest'". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 26 February 2020.

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