Two women who have filed a $40 million civil suit accusing a Roman Catholic priest of sexually abusing them when they were students at a Baltimore high school may use pseudonyms in their case, a Baltimore judge ruled yesterday.
Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy called the allegations against the priest "abhorrent and titillating to some" and said he considered the women's motion for anonymity "the most modest intrusion they could ask for" on First Amendment rights of public access to court proceedings.
He said that the lurid details of the case are of great interest to a segment of the public and that satisfying that interest by placing their names in the record could lead to public ridicule.
J. Michael Lehane, the lawyer for the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell, TC argued that the possibility of embarrassment was insufficient to warrant anonymity for the women. He said his 55-year-old client "has no place to go. He has been named and substantially damaged."
The two women were students at Archbishop Keough High School in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Father Maskell was the school's chaplain and counselor.
They have alleged in their suits -- filed under the names of Jane Doe and Jane Roe -- that the priest carried on a sustained pattern of bizarre sexual abuse, frequently wrapped in church sacraments.
Mr. Lehane argued that the women have "attempted to lever a settlement" from the archdiocese "with threats of exposure." Preparing a proper defense, including investigation of the women's character and background, will require the use of their real names, he said.
Phillip G. Dantes, lead lawyer for the women, said, "Some of the things go far beyond the parameters of mere embarrassment."
He submitted affidavits from psychologists treating the women that said public disclosure of their identities could jeopardize their therapy and lead to irreversible damage.
While Father Maskell's attorney opposed the request for anonymity, lawyers for the other defendants in the case did not. They are the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop William H. Keeler, the high school and the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who supervised the Keough faculty.
They worked out a compromise with Mr. Dantes to allow pretrial investigators to use the names discreetly and for the women to use the pseudonyms during trial, if the case proceeds that far.
Dr. Christian F. Richter, 79, a retired gynecologist who lives is Ruxton and who is named as a co-defendant in one suit, did not have a lawyer at yesterday's hearing.
But Mr. Dantes told Judge Gordy he had been contacted by a lawyer who said he expected to represent the physician.
Father Maskell, who is undergoing therapy at an undisclosed institution, is also the subject of a criminal investigation by the Baltimore state's attorney's sex abuse unit.
Sharon A. H. May, chief prosecutor for the unit, declined to comment yesterday about the investigation of the priest.
Baltimore County police also say Father Maskell's name has surfaced in their reopened investigation of the 1969 murder of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, a teacher at Archbishop Keough when Father Maskell served there.
Yesterday marked the third time the issue of victim anonymity has arisen in connection with allegations of sexual abuse by priests against youngsters in Baltimore.
The two earlier cases, in 1988 and 1989, were settled secretly, with court-imposed gag orders to prevent the victims from discussing their cases or how much money they received.
The 1988 case went to settlement instead of trial when lawyers for the archdiocese persuaded a Baltimore judge to rule that unless the plaintiffs' names went on the record their suits would be dismissed.
The next year, the archdiocese used the same tactic, but a different judge ruled the plaintiffs could remain anonymous. That case was also settled out of court.