Note: This post contains details regarding sexual abuse.
In the late Cathy Cesnik’s English class at Archbishop Keough High School, my mother and her friend giggled uncontrollably at the cackling of the Three Witches, or the Wayward Sisters, in the recording of “MacBeth.” Sister Cathy (who at that time went by Sister Joanita) devised a punishment to fit the crime: each time the recording approached the cackling, she lowered the volume on the record player and required the girls to perform the cackling themselves. She was the kind of teacher who created with her students memories that last a lifetime.
Tragically, Cesnik’s life was cut short when she was murdered in 1969, as previously reported in HuffPost’s original story: “Buried in Baltimore: The Mysterious Murder of a Nun Who Knew Too Much.”
Just before Netflix released Ryan White’s stunning seven-part documentary series, “The Keepers,” which details allegations of abuse by priests (and police officers) and the unsolved murders of Cesnik and Joyce Malecki, the Archdiocese of Baltimore began a public relations campaign aimed to protect diocesan coffers, minimize the experiences of the many victims of abuse and the families of slain women, and deflect responsibility for the crimes.
When the late Father Joseph Maskell, then the guidance counselor at Archbishop Keough High School, called my mother, who was 15, to his office for counseling, he used guilt, shame, and hypnosis to abuse her. He told her French kissing was a mortal sin. He plied her for details of her dates with her boyfriend. And when he thought he had properly groomed her, he hypnotized her and assaulted her.
My mother told. My grandmother, strong and vocal, had been warned by another priest never to let Maskell see her daughter alone. When she learned Maskell had been taking my mother out of class for “counseling,” she called the high school and demanded that Maskell never summon my mother from class again.
“When the late Father Joseph Maskell, then the guidance counselor at Archbishop Keough High School, called my mother, who was 15, to his office for counseling, he used guilt, shame, and hypnosis to abuse her.”
Later, Maskell showed my mother a handgun and said my grandmother was “a very dangerous woman.”
Although the Archdiocese of Baltimore compensated some of Maskell’s victims with a small settlement for the abuse they endured, they will never make up for the harm their actions have caused generations of families, including mine.
As a girl, I never understood why I didn’t attend Catholic school like my cousins, nor Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes like my friends, why I didn’t have a special First Communion with a white dress like in the picture of my mom when she was a little girl, or why I couldn’t take communion. As an adult, I understand that my mother was protecting me from the harm that befell her.
I had also overheard her talking with friends, saying the Church was full of “Pharisees.” Not until I was older did I learn that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their self-righteousness and hypocrisy. Never more than now has this comparison been clearer to me.
“The Archdiocese first became aware of an allegation of abuse by Maskell in 1992, more than 20 years after the abuse occurred,” according to “an important message” from Archbishop William E. Lori, issued before “The Keepers” premiere.
That is a lie. Not only did my grandmother tell in the 1960s, other abuse victims told. The abuses at Keough were not a secret from the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese simply did not care about the children. They took money from parents for education and for Sunday offerings, and they endangered their children.
Today, the Archdiocese of Baltimore continues its tradition of deceit, arrogance, and disregard for humanity with a disgusting public relations campaign to discredit survivors that includes a Twitter hashtag, #TheKeepersUntold (originally #TheKeepersTruth). The @archbalt feed is a monument to the cruelty and deception upon which the Church is built.
“The abuses at Keough were not a secret from the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese simply did not care about the children.”
The Archdiocese of Baltimore may deflect blame for the abuses, but it must accept the reality of its actions. Falling membership and vocational crisis should be reasons enough for internal reflection, but I have no faith that these “holy” men will lower their shields of self-righteousness to see the pain caused by their actions. The Archdiocese stole from our family the faith that sustained our ancestors and the traditions that connected us to them.
In their place, I pledge to carry on a new tradition, inspired by my grandmother. I will be “a very dangerous woman.” I will speak truth to power, and I will never let the church harm my family again.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.