Cardinal William H. Keeler has revoked the official duties of a priest being sued for allegedly molesting two women while they were students at a Catholic high school in southwest Baltimore 20 years ago.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, William Blaul, said the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell was notified that Cardinal Keeler had removed the priest's faculties to administer the church sacraments when officials named a successor to Father Maskell as pastor of a Howard County parish in December.
The revocation of Father Maskell's priestly duties was not publicly known until archdiocese officials were contacted by The Sun.
Mr. Blaul also confirmed that Father Maskell had left residential treatment at an undisclosed facility in October and, without the knowledge of the archdiocese, had lived for a short time at a church rectory in Dundalk.
"We think it is highly inappropriate that he was staying at the rectory," Mr. Blaul said. "He has no authority to operate as a priest, and the archdiocese does not want to have him in a position to give people that impression."
Father Maskell stayed in the rectory at St. Rita's church in Dundalk from Dec. 15 to Jan. 10, according to the church.
The Rev. Robert Hawkins, St. Rita's pastor, acknowledged last week that Father Maskell had stayed at his rectory but would not provide details on Father Maskell's stay, the accommodations or whether he worked with parishioners.
Father Hawkins attended St. Mary's Seminary with Father Maskell and has remained a close friend for 40 years, he said.
The pastor is involved in raising money for his friend's legal defense fund.
"One would surmise that he was invited to stay at the rectory, but priests who have faculties removed should not stay at rectories. . . . It gives the false impression such a priest can perform his priestly functions," Mr. Blaul said.
No action was taken against Father Hawkins, Mr. Blaul said.
Church officials said they do not know Father Maskell's whereabouts. His attorney, J. Michael Lehane, did not respond to telephone calls yesterday.
Father Maskell entered treatment last summer after he resigned his pastorship at St. Augustine's in Elkridge. He sought treatment for what he described as stress and anxiety brought on by the lawsuits, which total $40 million, and a criminal investigation.
In an earlier interview with The Sun, Father Maskell denied the allegations against him.
The two women filed the suits against Father Maskell, the archdiocese and the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
The charges involve the period when Father Maskell was chaplain and counselor at Archbishop Keough High School from 1967 to 1975.
Also named as a defendant in one of the suits is Dr. Christian Richter, 79, of Ruxton, a retired gynecologist. The suit alleges that the doctor and the priest sexually abused one of the women during a pelvic examination.
The Sun has interviewed other former Archbishop Keough students who made similar allegations against the priest but are precluded from suing by a three-year statute of limitations.
A May 1 hearing will be held in Baltimore Circuit Court to determine whether the two outstanding suits fall within the statute of limitations, which gives a person three years to file after discovering she has been harmed.