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2 sue priest, alleging sex abuse

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In lawsuits seeking $40 million in damages, a Baltimore priest was accused yesterday of sexually abusing two former students at a Catholic girls high school more than 20 years ago.

The Rev. A. Joseph Maskell, 55, is accused of a series of assaults -- some involving bizarre sex practices -- spelled out in graphic terms in the suits.

The alleged attacks occurred when the plaintiffs were students during the late 1960s and early 1970s at Archbishop Keough High School in Southwest Baltimore.

A now-retired gynecologist who accepted Archbishop Keough students as patients on referral from Father Maskell also is named in one of the suits.

The suit says the doctor allowed Father Maskell into the examining room where both men sexually assaulted the teen-age girl.

More than 30 men and women are prepared to testify to first-hand knowledge about other alleged acts of sexual abuse by the priest -- one of which allegedly occurred on the Keough chapel altar, another in the chapel sacristy and others in rectories and the priest's private school office, said Beverly A. Wallace, a lawyer for the women.

Father Maskell also is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Baltimore state's attorney's office involving sexual abuse allegations.

In addition, a high-ranking Baltimore County police official said this summer that the priest's name has surfaced in a reopened investigation of the 1969 slaying of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, who had worked with him at Keough.

Father Maskell, who was chaplain and psychological counselor at the school but most most recently was pastor at a Howard County parish, engaged in various acts of intercourse, the suits charge, and in one incident, is said to have placed a gun in the mouth of one of the plaintiffs.

The suits allege that Father Maskell used various tactics to persuade or coerce the victims, including hypnosis, threats of physical violence and assault. The suits also claim Father Maskell forced the teen-agers to perform sexual acts with a police officer when the priest was chaplain for the Baltimore County Police Department.

Father Maskell, who holds a master's degree in psychology and a certificate in advanced study in counseling from the Johns Hopkins University, degraded and humiliated the plaintiffs, the suits allege.

Accusations denied

In interviews with police and The Sun, Father Maskell has denied all allegations that he sexually abused students at Keough or elsewhere.

J. Michael Lehane, an attorney for Father Maskell, said he would not comment until he reads the suits.

Thomas C. Dame, a lawyer for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore who was present when the suits were filed, referred inquiries to William Blaul, spokesman for the archdiocese.

Mr. Blaul said he would not comment on the suits because he has not had an opportunity to review them.

He said Father Maskell is at a "well-regarded, out-of-state facility where he is receiving treatment."

Girls coerced

Independently, The Sun conducted taped interviews with the two plaintiffs months before yesterday's legal action.

Both alleged that Father Maskell occasionally used the sacraments of the church as a vehicle for sex practices.

They, and other women and men on the witness list, told The Sun that Father Maskell persuaded the girls to confess in church whether they were sexually active or had experimented with drugs and then used their indiscretions to force them to do his will. If they were not sexually active, Father Maskell told them they were "frigid" and would "counsel" them, usually involving sexual acts and implements, the women said.

"He told me he would tell my parents I was having sex with my boyfriend," said one woman on the witness list. "In those days, in a strict Roman Catholic family, that was like the world was going to end."

Inappropriate comments

Another woman on the witness list, now a professional in the health care field, said the priest conducted an "internal pelvic FTC examination of me on a table in the sacristy of the chapel at the high school."

"He would tell me he was medically trained, that it was for our own good," she said. "Combined with the fact that he was one of the closest representatives to God in the Catholic religion, how were we as teen-agers to know what to do?"

Other women have alleged that Father Maskell made inappropriate comments during confession.

"I was only 13 years old; I didn't even know what petting was. It was the only time I ever had a priest suggest what my sins might be," said a 1972 Keough graduate, also on the witness list, who said the priest asked what she did with her boyfriend and made suggestive comments.

She said she did not attend confession for 25 years after the encounter with Father Maskell early in her freshman year.

Yesterday's suits were filed in Baltimore Circuit Court by Towson lawyers Phillip G. Dantes, James G. Maggio and Ms. Wallace.

The two women plaintiffs, identified only as Jane Roe and Jane Doe, now are in their early 40s.

Additional suits will be filed, Ms. Wallace said.

Mr. Dantes, lead lawyer in the case, said there are only two plaintiffs because a three-year civil statute of limitations precluded others from joining the suit.

With the two plaintiffs, he said, the three-year period began from the time they recovered their memories of the alleged abuse, as allowed under state law.

Other people who alleged Father Maskell abused them said they never had lost the memory but had no one to report to.

Mr. Dantes said their testimony will show a pattern to corroborate the plaintiffs' allegations.

Gynecologist sued

Also named as a defendant in one of the suits is Dr. Christian Richter, 79, of Ruxton, a retired gynecologist. "During the course of multiple examinations . . . in Maskell's presence, both Richter and Maskell sexually battered plaintiff, including engaging in vaginal penetration," the suit says.

Dr. Richter told The Sun last March and April that he accepted referrals from Father Maskell at his private office on St. Paul Street.

Although he first denied the priest was present during examinations, Dr. Richter later said, "It's possible he may have been in the examining room, in the absence of parents, I don't know, to calm the girl. It's very possible he might have come in the examining room. She was 16. She probably had a good deal of faith in him."

Dr. Richter said Father Maskell showed a great interest in medicine, particularly in gynecology. "He seemed to be more acclimated to the OB [obstetrics] and GYN part of it."

Why?

"All I can say is, he's a man. And I guess it was his opportunity . . . ," Dr. Richter replied.

Asked what he meant by "opportunity," he said, "To be inclined to favor women in any way, I guess."

During the interviews, Dr. Richter denied sexually abusing the woman. He reiterated that denial yesterday when he was shown a copy of the lawsuit.

Dr. Richter declined to comment on the suit other than to say it lacks "details on what we're supposed to have done."

Police inquiries

The city state's attorney's office also is looking into other purported sexual attacks on children and young adults at parishes where Father Maskell was assigned after his ordination in 1965.

Two weeks ago, city detectives dug up a vanload of confidential records the priest had ordered buried four years ago in Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Sharon A. H. May, chief of the Sex Abuse Unit in the city state's attorney's office, this week continued to refuse comment on the investigation.

City police were accompanied at the exhumation of the records by the two Baltimore County homicide detectives assigned to the revived investigation of the slaying of Sister Catherine.

The detectives were there because Father Maskell's name had come up during their investigation, said Capt. Rustin E. Price, commander of the county homicide unit.

"We are still actively investigating leads," Captain Price said yesterday.

Sister Catherine was also on the faculty of Archbishop Keough. The priest has denied any knowledge of the slaying.

On July 31, Father Maskell stepped down as pastor of St. Augustine's Church in Elkridge and went into treatment.

On Aug. 2, he resigned from the Maryland Air National Guard, where he was senior chaplain of the 135th Air Transport Group, based at Martin State Airport.

He also was dropped from the advisory board of Operation Challenge, a Guard-sponsored program at Aberdeen Proving Ground for high school dropouts.

After he left St. Augustine's, archdiocesan officials said he had requested time off to seek in-patient therapy for anxiety and stress brought on by "the prospect of civil litigation and a criminal investigation."

Other defendants

The suits also name as defendants the archdiocese, Archbishop William H. Keeler, the School Sisters of Notre Dame and Seton-Keough High School, which previously was known as Archbishop Keough.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs said the order of teaching nuns is named as a defendant because it was Father Maskell's immediate supervisor while he was at Archbishop Keough.

The high school is named because of administrative responsibility, and the archdiocese and Archbishop Keeler because they are the direct employers of the priest.

"Defendants breached their duties by negligently failing to investigate and monitor the background and activities of Maskell and, upon notice of such propensities, negligently placing Maskell at Keough, and thereafter negligently failing to adequately supervise and monitor his behavior," the suit says.

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