"The Keepers" elicits local reaction

Docu-series now available on Netflix
Posted at 4:15 PM, May 19, 2017
and last updated 2019-03-17 19:13:16-04

“The Keepers” dropped early Friday morning.

The seven part documentary lays bare all the theories surrounding the 1969 murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik and the role Father Joseph Maskell may have played in it.

But the abuse Maskell was accused of is also at issue.

"Oh I think it is a story that is highly relevant, needed to be told," said attorney Sheldon Jacobs.

Jacobs represented 13 victims who alleged Maskell abused them some 45 years ago.

He was interviewed as part of “The Keepers” and through his mediation talks with the Catholic Church, heard these survivors' stories.

RELATED: Series on murder of Baltimore nun now available on Netflix

He is happy to see the docu-series get traction.

"I think it's a story that everybody, Americans throughout the world should know. To be vigilant that there can be people like this."

One of the people Jacobs represented was Teresa Lancaster.

ABC2 interviewed her by phone last fall and she told us what Father Maskell did to her.

"I was in there with him, he took off all my clothes off and he had me sit on his lap and he abused me."

In all, the archdiocese mediated 13 cases through Jacobs; 11 women and two men, a trail of abuse at least some of these survivors are happy to see come out.

"I want everyone to know what happened so that it doesn't happen again," Lancaster said.

“The Keepers” will almost ensure her and other stories do get out there as this documentary explores not just the abuse, but the theory of murder.

Already a Facebook page called Justice Catherine Cesnik is loading up with posts from all over the country.

It is a public awareness Jacobs says might be healing for all of Father Maskell's survivors.

"Significant vindication for them. I think would just look at it at that level. So for me, in my relationship with those survivors, that to me is probably the most important thing. I think it is wonderful that it is going out to the world but I am happiest again for these individual, these individual survivors," Jacobs said.

See also: DNA offers no clue in nun's death

The Archdiocese of Baltimore says it prohibited Father Maskell from public ministry in 1994 when several individuals came forward about abuse.

He died in 2001 but his remains exhumed this year to run his DNA with samples found at the murder scene of Sister Cesnik.

The lab determined it was not a match.

Below is a statement from the Archdiocese of Baltimore on the release of “The Keepers”

Dear Friends in Christ,

I write to call your attention to an upcoming online docu-series released by Netflix May 19 concerning the unsolved murder in 1969 of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a nun and former teacher at the former Archbishop Keough High School in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The series will also reportedly focus on the question of whether Sr. Cesnik’s murder involved Joseph Maskell, a priest of the Archdiocese who was accused of sexually abusing numerous students while serving as chaplain at Archbishop Keough. Some believe that Sr. Cesnik may have been murdered because she was aware of the abuse and was going to report it to authorities. I write today to provide you with some facts and background information that may or may not be included in the documentary.

First, it is important to remember that prevention of child abuse and pastoral outreach to those affected are the cornerstones of the Archdiocese’s actions and policies. We encourage anyone with information about child sexual abuse to contact appropriate authorities.

The Archdiocese is committed to promoting healing for survivors of sexual abuse. As a pastoral measure, the Church has provided counseling assistance and direct financial assistance to victims of Maskell. In addition, the Archdiocese has offered personal meetings and apologies to any survivor who has come forward and continues to be in communication with survivors to discuss ways of promoting their healing and an understanding of the effects of their abuse. Their abuse was horribly tragic and the Archdiocese remains deeply saddened and regretful that someone representing the Church could have perpetrated such crimes against children. The Archdiocese has also reached out to the family of Sister Cathy to offer support.

The tragic events discussed in this docu-series have been the subject of both Archdiocesan disclosures and numerous local and national news stories. The Archdiocesan website has links to some of those previous articles and statements going back to 1969 that provide more detail about these events. The Netflix series is the latest to deal with them.

The Archdiocese first became aware of an allegation of abuse by Maskell in 1992, more than 20 years after the abuse occurred. At that time, the adult survivor and her attorney were encouraged to report the matter to civil authorities and Maskell was removed from ministry and referred for evaluation and treatment. He denied the allegation, underwent months of evaluation and treatment, and was returned to ministry in 1993 after the Archdiocese was unable to corroborate the allegation of sexual abuse after its own investigation and conversations with attorneys representing the individual who initially came forward.

When subsequent individuals came forward to accuse Maskell in 1994 he was permanently prohibited from public ministry. The Archdiocese made additional reports and has cooperated with authorities subsequent to that time. Further, the Archdiocese held a public meeting at St. Augustine Parish in Elkridge, where Maskell was serving at the time of his removal from ministry, attended by more than 100 people and covered by the media, regarding the allegations against Maskell. The allegations were once again made public, along with his assignments, during the Archdiocese’s 2002 disclosure of all known clergymen who had been credibly accused of sexual abusing a child. Maskell died in 2001. The Archdiocese’s Independent Child Abuse Review Board, now chaired by (ret.) Judge Joseph Murphy, has repeatedly reviewed the Archdiocese’s response to the allegations involving Maskell since the initial allegation was made.

Regarding the tragic murder of Sister Cathy, the Archdiocese offered a reward in 1994 for anyone with information leading to the conviction of her killer. The first suggestion to the Archdiocese of Baltimore that Maskell might have been involved in Sister Cathy’s death was made in 1994. Both the police and the media interviewed Maskell in 1994 regarding the nun’s death and the allegations of sexual abuse. The Archdiocese has no record of Sister Cathy contacting the Archdiocese about Maskell. No criminal charges were ever filed in connection with Sister Cathy’s death or the allegations of abuse.

I pray this information is helpful to you. Additional information, including a set of frequently asked questions, is available here on the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s website. The website contains Archdiocesan policies and other information about the Church’s critically important efforts to protect children through screening, training, education, reporting and cooperation with civil authorities, investigation, zero-tolerance, pastoral outreach, and oversight.

Please join me in praying for those impacted by the events discussed in this production, for victims of sexual abuse, and for our Church and its efforts to protect children and to bring healing and comfort to survivors.


Most Reverend William E. Lori

Archbishop of Baltimore