Pri­est in nun mur­der doc­u­men­tary worked in Wex­ford as psy­chol­o­gist

Enniscorthy Guardian - - NEWS - By MARIA PEP­PER

THE stranger-than-fic­tion story of the ex­huma­tion of the body of an Amer­i­can pri­est who fled child sex abuse charges in Baltimore and was sus­pected of mur­der­ing a nun be­fore com­ing to live in Wex­ford where he worked as a psy­chol­o­gist with the HSE and cel­e­brated Mass without dioce­san ap­proval, is the sub­ject of a Net­flix doc­u­men­tary due to be screened on Fri­day.

The ex­tra­or­di­nary tale of Fr Joseph Maskell hit the head­lines last week­end due to the im­mi­nent show­ing of ‘ The Keep­ers’, a doc­u­men­tary se­ries by Net­flix in which it is al­leged that he killed a nun, Sr. Cather­ine Ann Ces­nik, in the late 1960s af­ter she al­legedly tack­led him about the sex­ual abuse of school­girls in Baltimore.

Fr Maskell came to Wex­ford in 1994 af­ter evad­ing po­lice ar­rest in Amer­ica where two women filed a $40 mil­lion law­suit against him over child abuse at Keough High School in Baltimore where he had served as chap­lain from 1967 to 1975.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing in Wex­ford, he lived in Castle­bridge and worked as a psy­chol­o­gist for sev­eral months with the HSE (then known as the South East­ern Health Board), later set­ting up a pri­vate psy­chol­ogy prac­tice which he op­er­ated for about three years. He came into con­flict with the Diocese of Ferns which raised concerns about his dark past.

The Net­flix true-crime doc­u­men­tary will tell the story of Sr Cather­ine, a 26year old nun at Keough High School who van­ished in Novem­ber 1969. Two months later, her body was found on waste ground and a post-mortem ex­am­i­na­tion showed she died from blunt force trauma to the head. No-one has ever been charged in con­nec­tion with her death which haunted the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

The body of Fr Maskell who died in 2001 was ex­humed from his Baltimore grave on Fe­bru­ary 28 this year for the pur­pose of tak­ing a DNA sam­ple to com­pare with ev­i­dence found near where Sr. Cather­ine’s body was lo­cated. The re­sults of the DNA test­ing are awaited.

It is not clear from a Ferns dioce­san file on Fr Maskell ex­actly when the pri­est came to Wex­ford or on what date he left but it cov­ers a pe­riod from April 19, 1995, to Septem­ber 22, 1998.

Fr Maskell wrote to the Bishop’s House in April 1995, in re­sponse to a query from the Diocese when it was dis­cov­ered that he had cel­e­brated Mass in Screen- Cur­r­a­cloe by way of cover for the lo­cal pri­est Fr Frank Bar­ron who had fallen ill. Bishop of Ferns at the time was Dr Brendan Comiskey.

In this let­ter, Fr Maskell wrote: ‘I wish only to of­fer Mass pri­vately and carry out my spir­i­tual ac­tiv­i­ties in a like man­ner’. He said he had been granted ‘ tem­po­rary leave’ (from Baltimore) and had no ‘plan or de­sire to en­gage in any pub­lic min­istry while here’.

Dioce­san Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Of­fi­cer Fr John Car­roll said it was ob­vi­ous that Fr Maskell had moved to Wex­ford be­fore this time. But he did not make him­self known to the Diocese and this was his first con­tact, ini­ti­ated by the Diocese and not by Fr Maskell him­self. Fr Maskell was liv­ing at the time in Castle­bridge where the lo­cal pri­est was un­well.

There was a fol­low-up let­ter to Fr Maskell from the Diocese, re­quest­ing epis­co­pal con­fir­ma­tion of his sta­tus but no re­sponse was forth­com­ing.

Aris­ing from con­tin­ued concerns as to his still unclar­i­fied sta­tus as well as re­ports that he was in the em­ploy­ment of the South East­ern Health Board and had ap­peared re­cently in full cler­i­cal garb in pub­lic, the Diocese made di­rect con­tact with the Baltimore Arch­dio­cese on June 25, 1996, re­quest­ing in­for­ma­tion on Fr Maskell.

The Baltimore Arch­dio­cese ex­plained to the Ferns Diocese that se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of sex abuse had sur­faced re­gard­ing Fr Maskell prior to his de­par­ture from the US diocese in 1994 and that they had been un­aware of his where­abouts.

Ac­cord­ing to Fr Car­roll, the diocese also con­tacted the SEHB around the same time, shar­ing the in­for­ma­tion that came from Baltimore and ex­press­ing anx­i­ety about the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of his work as a psy­chol­o­gist and his un­su­per­vised sta­tus. The dioce­san file also records notes from a meet­ing with the SEHB in Au­gust.

The Ferns Diocese pro­vided the Baltimore Arch­dio­cese and the SEHB with con­tact de­tails for each other with a view to them mak­ing con­tact so as to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion more di­rectly.

The Dioce­san file shows that Fr Maskell worked as a tem­po­rary psy­chol­o­gist with the SEHB in 1995, a psy­chol­o­gist in pri­vate prac­tice in Wex­ford and Castle­bridge from 1995 to 1998 and that he pre­sented as a pri­est on oc­ca­sions be­tween 1995 and 1996 de­spite lack­ing per­mis­sion.

It was his pre­sent­ing as a pri­est that prompted Ferns to en­quire fur­ther into his sta­tus and to make con­tact with Baltimore and the SEHB in June 1996.

Fr Car­roll said that up to Septem­ber 22, 1998, the diocese con­tin­ued to be un­easy about Fr Maskell’s pres­ence, his con­tacts and ac­tiv­i­ties and his re­main­ing here in light of the charges against him.

A let­ter from the Diocese of Ferns dated Oc­to­ber 6, 1996, pointed out to Fr Maskell that the cel­e­bra­tion of Mass by him, as per­mit­ted by his con­tin­ued sta­tus as a pri­est of Baltimore, ‘any­where other than in your own pri­vate res­i­dence – in sem­i­nar­ies, con­vents, etc. – for ex­am­ple – is re­garded as an act of pub­lic min­istry. So also is any con­cel­e­bra­tion of Mass.’

The file con­tains cor­re­spon­dence be­tween the Diocese of Ferns and Fr Maskell and the SEHB, the Gardai, and with lawyers and in­di­vid­u­als who were con­tacted by the Diocese with a view to dis­cov­er­ing more de­tails about the sta­tus, ac­tiv­i­ties and where­abouts of the US pri­est, up to Septem­ber 22, 1998. It is not clear from the file whether Fr Maskell had left the area or not by then.

Ac­cord­ing to Fr Car­roll, it is clear from the file that Fr Maskell con­tin­ued work in pri­vate prac­tice as a psy­chol­o­gist af­ter July 1996.

Fr Maskell’s sis­ter Mau­reen Bald­win has main­tained his in­no­cence of all crimes. She said he never prac­tised as a pri­est in Ferns. ‘He told the bishop in Wex­ford he was an or­dained pri­est from the Arch­dio­cese of Baltimore but he was not op­er­at­ing there as a pri­est. He never asked for ‘pri­estly fac­ul­ties’.

The Baltimore Arch­dio­cese said it had at­tempted to con­tact Maskell in Ire­land, ask­ing him to re­turn but their let­ters had gone unan­swered.

Ms. Bald­win said she ac­com­pa­nied her brother back to Baltimore in 1999 where he con­tin­ued to live un­til his death in 2001. In 2016, the Arch­dio­cese of Baltimore paid set­tle­ments rang­ing from $25,000 to $50,000 dol­lars to 13 for­mer Keough stu­dents.

The HSE is­sued a state­ment to this news­pa­per yes­ter­day (Mon­day) point­ing out that due to data pro­tec­tion pro­to­cols, it is not in a po­si­tion to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion in re­la­tion to cur­rent or for­mer em­ploy­ees and prior to the es­tab­lish­ment of the HSE, the South East­ern Health Board had stan­dard pro­ce­dures in place re­gard­ing the hir­ing of per­ma­nent, part-time or on-con­tract em­ploy­ees/pro­fes­sional.

Fr Joseph Maskell , who died in 2001,

Sis­ter Cather­ine Ann Ces­nik, who was beaten to death in 1969, aged 26.

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