Women from 'The Keepers' discuss experience at Baltimore conference on child sexual abuse prevention

Three women featured in the documentary “The Keepers” renewed calls Thursday for the Archdiocese of Baltimore to release its files on the priest at the center of the Netflix series.

“Open your books, release your records,” Abbie Schaub said at a conference at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Schaub, along with Lil Hughes Knipp and Teresa Lancaster, was featured in a panel at the annual symposium of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, which is part of the public health school.

They questioned why the archdiocese won’t release its files on the late priest A. Joseph Maskell, who was accused of sexual abuse by multiple people, including Knipp and Lancaster.

“The Keepers” documentary focused on sexual abuse allegations at Archbishop Keough High School in the 1960s and 1970s and the unsolved 1969 killing of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, who taught there. It examined the theory that Cesnik was murdered because she knew about abuse committed by Maskell, who was the school chaplain and psychologist.

Maskell, who died in 2001, denied the abuse allegations and was never criminally charged. But the archdiocese has paid settlements to at least 16 people who said he abused them.

In the documentary, Knipp and Lancaster share their experience as abuse survivors. Schaub, along with former classmate Gemma Hoskins, is featured as an amateur sleuth working to investigate Cesnik’s death.

It’s been almost a year since the seven-part series premiered. Its debut sparked calls for the release of Maskell’s personnel records, which many said would shed light on the church’s handling of the case. At the time, the church called the records “confidential” and said state law and archdiocesan policy would prevent disclosure of much of the information contained in them.

Sean Caine, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told The Baltimore Sun Thursday that the church’s position remains the same.

The symposium Thursday focused on how institutions and organizations that work with children can stop abuse before it happens. Other panels addressed legal and policy reforms, abuse prevention programs and how to address abuse in institutional settings.

State Del. C.T. Wilson of Charles County, who was sexually abused as a child, delivered the keynote address at the conference. Wilson sponsored legislation to give child victims more time to file lawsuits against their abusers.

During “The Keepers” panel, moderated by Moore Center director Elizabeth J. Letourneau, Lancaster said many adults failed to protect Maskell’s victims.

“A lot of people knew,” Lancaster said. “A lot of people knew and they didn’t do a damn thing to help us.”

Knipp told the crowd that her experiences led her down a destructive path in which she struggled to maintain relationships as an adult.

She said that when she was a student, Maskell invited her to become his “confidential secretary.” Whenever she would report to his office, he gave her a Coke, she said. She later determined that she had been drugged.

“I didn’t really begin to remember a lot of what had been done to me until I was in my 40s,” she said. “I completely disassociated. I thought it was only me that it had happened to.”

Knipp grew up in a large Catholic family.

“I actually had to wait for my father to die to talk about this, because it would destroy him,” she said. “He went to church every morning, and his faith was everything to him.”

Lancaster said she first went to Maskell’s office because she was having problems with her parents.

“I was taught, from elementary school, that if you have a problem, go to the priest,” she said. “The priest is God on earth.”

Maskell appeared to target girls from very devout Catholic families, Schaub said.

“One of the ugliest things of this is the betrayal of confidence,” she said.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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