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Settlement money said to be running out for some survivors of church sex abuse

Survivor starts new effort to help more victims
Posted at 11:28 PM, May 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-21 09:59:46-04

It has been almost exactly one year since “The Keepers” was released on Netflix.  The seven-part series gave viewers around the world an inside look at the murder of a nun from Baltimore, Sister Cathy Cesnik, and also allegations of sexual abuse committed by priests at Archbishop Keough High School.

It all happened nearly 50 years ago.  The Keepers ended without solving the murder of Sister Cesnik; no one has ever been arrested in connection with that crime.

RELATED: 'The Keepers' Sister Cathy Cesnik would have been 75-years-old

As for the sexual abuse at Archbishop Keough, dozens of women, possibly more than 100, have now come forward.

Many of them are still being treated by therapists with much of that therapy paid for by the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  But in some cases, the money has run out.

Now, a victim of sexual abuse at Keough sat down with WMAR-2 News to talk about her new effort to help all victims of clergy sex abuse put their lives back together:

For thousands of girls in the 1960's and 70's, being accepted to Archbishop Keough High School was an honor.  That includes Michele Stanton, who now lives in Anne Arundel County. Early in her freshman year, 1969, Stanton went to confession with Father Joseph Maskell, who was then the chaplain of the Archbishop Keough School.

Stanton says Maskell abused her, sexually, inside of the confessional. A short time later, she started being summoned, frequently, to the office of the school's director of religious studies, Father Neil Magnus.

“I could let my hair down, I could unbutton the top button of my shirt, I could roll my skirt up, I could smoke in there,” she said.

And, Stanton remembers repeated sexual abuse that continued through her freshman and sophomore year.  “I was told that I was this unique person and I was very mature for my age and he understood me,” she said.

More than 20 years later, in the early 1990's, women started coming forward -- claiming they had been abused at Keough.  Baltimore City Police started an investigation.

A local attorney put an ad in the Baltimore Sun, looking for more potential victims.  Michele Stanton responded to the ad.

Two women, then identified as Jane Doe and Jane Roe, sued the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  But eventually, a judge ruled that because the statute of limitations had expired, the lawsuit could not go forward.  Stanton was never called to testify.

Fast forward more than 20 years, again -- and "The Keepers" was released on Netflix.  The documentary features an interview with an anonymous city police detective, identified only as "Deep Throat.”

“I interviewed over 100 girls myself as we were getting into this thing we finally had to cut it off because I mean we had so many victims, we were going to work on the best cases,” Deep Throat said to several members of the group that put together the documentary.

That was the first time Michele Stanton realized there were many more women, with stories exactly like her own – sexual abuse by Fathers Joseph Maskell and Neil Magnus.

“I felt like I was being treated like I was a special person and that it wasn't happening to anyone else and so there was no way for us to really touch base with one another,” she said.

Stanton has spent the past 12 years working as a therapist.  She treats women and men, who have been abused by clergy members.

“With most people with trauma I really feel that I have an incredibly deep understanding and depth of the degree of damage that they have endured and suffering,” she said.  “I truly can empathize and I think that develops a bond of trust. Many of my patients end up developing dissociative disorders or addiction problems. And so there's a lot of work to be done. You're really reconstructing and reparenting the person.”

And that takes time -- in the vast majority of cases, a lot of time.  “It's not, you know a six or eight session process,” Stanton said.  “It's not even a three or four-month process. It's a lifelong process.”

But survivors who enter into a settlement with the Archdiocese of Baltimore get a pre-set amount of money, which can be used for therapy.  Stanton said for many of those survivors, the money - and with it, their treatment - is running out.

“To precipitously end access to that treatment, particularly if someone is seeing someone who is not in their insurance network or who doesn't accept insurance or that person has exhausted their insurance benefits is conscionable to me,” Stanton said.

Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told WMAR-2 News that lifelong counseling services are available for victims of clergy sex abuse.  A victim can receive counseling from a therapist of their choosing, paid for by the Archdiocese.

SEE ALSO: WMAR uncovers video of key moment in 'The Keepers'

But some victims have chosen, instead, to go through a mediation process, which ends with a financial settlement.  If a victim chooses mediation, they must be represented in the process by an attorney.  And the Archdiocese says it is made clear during the process that if a victim chooses a cash settlement, they are forgoing the opportunity for lifelong, paid counseling services.=

Even so, Michele Stanton says there have been many cases in which victims have not realized just how much help they would need when they accept cash settlements.

“There is no way that you can completely heal and get through a whole course of treatment in a specific nominal amount of time. That just doesn't happen.  It doesn't happen in my field,” she said.

Stanton said she has tried to address the issue with Archdiocese, even suggesting that churches hold a special collection during mass.

Instead, she's now set up a Gofundme page.  The money raised will go to therapy for victims of clergy sex abuse whose cash settlements have run out.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore also has an extensive section on its response to the abuse crisis and also to "The Keepers" on its website.