Father Joseph Maskell, a previous chaplain at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland, is the key “villain” of Netflix’s recently released docu-series The Keepers. Maskell’s name is intrinsically tied to allegations of systematic sexual abuse at Keough, an all-girls high school, and the murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, both of which are large focuses of the series. Father Maskell died of a major stroke on May 7, 2001, at the age of 62, seven years after escaping the Archdiocese of Baltimore and fleeing to Ireland. He has never been officially charged with any of the accused crimes.
A controversial figure even before the premiere of The Keepers, Maskell had been accused of abuse many times over the years, without any of the accusations sticking. A 2015 feature from Huffington Post did a deep-dive on the Cesnik case before The Keepers introduced the masses to the nun’s story, and reported on what Maskell’s fate entailed.
See, Maskell has never, to this day, been charged with any wrong-doing, though he’s been accused of abuse many times over the years. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests reports that “Baltimore City prosecutors have charged only three of the 37 Baltimore priests who have been accused of sexual abuse since 1980,” according to the HuffPost article. “Just two of those priests were convicted, and one of those convictions was overturned in 2005.” Charging a priest, it turns out, is a hard thing to do, especially when that priest is as well-connected as Maskell seemed to be.
Maskell in particular was a difficult target. At the time, he served as the chaplain for the Baltimore County police, the Maryland State Police and the Maryland National Guard. Maskell kept a police scanner and loaded handgun in his car, drank beer with the officers at a local dive bar, and often went on “ride-alongs” with his police friends at night to respond to petty crimes or catch teenagers making out in their cars.
In the mid-‘90s, a case against Maskell seemed to be the final straw. By that point, over 30 women had come forward with “first- and second-hand stories of sexual abuse.” But the case, based heavily on one of those victim’s accusations, was thrown out of court in 1995 on a technicality, a Maryland law that says victims of sexual abuse have three years from the time the abuse ends (or from when they discover it) to file a suit.
After yet another scandal, in 1994, involved potential photos of half-nude girls, which were supposedly buried in a graveyard at Maskell’s request. Maskell checked himself into a residential treatment facility, “claiming he needed help coping with the stress and anxiety the case had caused him.” A couple weeks later, Maskell covertly checked himself out of the facility and immediately fled to Ireland. He continued working there as a priest, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore reported having no knowledge of his location until a bishop in Ireland contacted the Archdiocese in July 1996, two years after Maskell fled Baltimore.
Officials dropped the case against Maskell when he fled, and he died in 2001 without having ever been charged with a crime.
The Keepers is now available to stream on Netflix.
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