The murder of Sister Cathy shocked America. There were allegations that it was linked to child abuse by priests and may have been covered up by the Catholic Church.
Now Netflix has produced a documentary to try to find out exactly what happened. Author Bill Hughes looks at the story and the documentary it inspired.
Review of Netflix’s “The Keepers” series
by Bill Hughes
“The evil in man is of gigantic proportions.” – Carl Jung
Did the Archdiocese of Baltimore (AOB) lie about Father Joseph Maskell’s crimes? This is one of the key questions that came up in Netflix’s “The Keepers” docu-series, (“Justice for Sister Cathy”), a program launched on May 19th of this year.
More on the background of Sister Cathy’s murder in just a moment. But first, let’s look at this key issue.
The AOB claimed it didn’t know that Father Maskell (now deceased) was a sexual pervert, who we now know was viciously preying on school children, male and female alike. The AOB claimed that it wasn’t until the early 90s, that it knew of his criminal activity.
The credible evidence in this series, however, strongly challenges the AOB’s version of history. In the late 60s, the mother of a one of Maskell’s victims told church officials about Maskall sexual abusing her altar boy son, Charles Franz.
Franz said that at first, Maskell treated him as a “golden boy” – then the abuse began. Franz eventually became a successful dentist, but he also battled with alcoholism and low self-esteem for nine years as a result of his abuse. His courageous contribution to truth-finding, along with his late mother’s, (bless her memory), makes him a true “golden boy” in my eyes.
How did the AOB’s respond to the charges brought by Mrs. Franz? In 1967, it moved Maskell from St. Clement RC parish in Landsdowne (where young Franz was as an altar boy), to Archbishop Keough, an all-girls, Catholic high school, in Baltimore City, run by the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND). This change gave Father Maskell a whole new crop of victims.
Franz commented: “If the Catholic Church had dealt with this properly in 1967, there would be no murder. We wouldn’t be here.”
This case reminded me of what happened in the Archdiocese of Boston a few years back. In Boston, the church’s wrongdoings were later exposed by the “Boston Globe” in their “Spotlight” series.
We now know that the “Spotlight” disclosures weren’t the end of the Catholic Church’s troubles. It was only the beginning!
Ryan White is the producer of “The Keepers.” His work deserves an award. The questions that come up after watching “The Keepers” are endless.
Investigative reporter, Tom Nugent’s role, is pivotal in this drama. He has been working on the case of Sister Cathy since the early 90s. In episode one, you see him moving around his attic checking out boxes of old files, with articles and notes on the case. This setting is a perfect place to start telling this saga. One of his sources, “Deep Throat,” was a police official familiar with the case.
This is a case nearly fifty years old. Some key players were priests, policemen and neighbors, but many memories have faded and some of the main characters have died. Nugent is in all seven episodes. His narration and questioning is a road map through the tangled web/murder mystery on the killing of Sister Cathy. Check out Nugent’s article, in 2013, on Sister Cathy
The prime keepers of the memory of what happened to Sister Cathy are two of her former students at Keough – Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins. They remind me of those amateur detectives on the British TV shows who go sleuthing around looking to solving mysteries.
Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, (Sister Cathy), age 26, who was a faculty member at Keough, was prepared to blow the whistle on Father Maskell’s wrongdoing. Before she could act, however she was murdered by party or parties unknown on November 7, 1969. She was last seen leaving her apartment to do some shopping. Her badly-battered body was found on January 3, 1970, by two hunters in a landfill, off Monumental Avenue, in Baltimore County.
Sister Cathy shared her apartment with another nun, Sister Russell Philips, now deceased. Sister Russell has always refused to talk about the case. Why? I have to wonder: Was she also in fear of Father Maskell? Could she have set Sister Cathy up?
Father Maskell was a suspect in Sister Cathy’s killing, but never charged. He fled to Ireland and later died in 2001, in Baltimore County. Recently, his body was exhumed, but no DNA could be found that matched the crime scene. Some insiders theorize that Maskell probably had one of his cronies kill Sister Cathy.
Around the same time, that Sister Cathy was murdered, Joyce Malecki’s body was found. She was only 20 years of age. She lived close to Sister Cathy. There are similarities in these two unsolved cases that have intrigued investigators. Her throat was slashed and her hands tied behind her back. She was a parishioner at St. Clement at the same time Father Maskall was a pastor there. Could the killer or killers of Malecki be the same ones who were in on the murder of Sister Cathy?
The FBI investigated Malecki’s murder. Her body was found on federal property. The agency has a file on her case, that supposedly contains forensic evidence. If true, it needs to share that file with both the Baltimore City and County police and do it – now!
An attempt to have Father Maskell indicted as a sexual predator in Baltimore City, back in the 90s, was unsuccessful. The Assistant D.A., Sharon A.H. May, said the case wasn’t strong enough to bring to trial.
Two of the heroes of this saga are Jean Hargadon Wehner and Theresa Lancaster. They were the plaintiffs in a civil case against Maskell and the AOB in the early 90s.
The case, however, was tossed out by the trial judge because it ran afoul of the statute of limitations. The duo have continued to fearlessly speak out for justice in this matter. Four other students from Keough have also joined them in going public about their stories of abuse.
Mrs. Wehner told the police that Father Maskell took her to the place where Sister Cathy’s body was dumped soon after she went missing. Her memory on this issue is very credible. She added that Maskell, at the site, threatened her by saying that she could end up dead like Sister Cathy if she got out of line.
The AOB has paid out, without admitting fault, $472,000 to the victims of Father Maskell.
Thanks to “The Keepers” series, the unsolved murders of Sister Cathy and Joyce Malecki are getting more attention than ever from the police, the media and those intrepid daughters of Keough who have refused to let this matter go. Let’s hope it leads to justice for all of the victims of this deplorable saga.
Bill Hughes is a Baltimore-based author, actor and photojournalist. He recently traced his ancestry from the Wild West of Ireland, to Great Britain to the Legendary Celts of Europe
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