Friday, May 15, 2015

Recommending Laura Bassett's Haunting Article "Buried in Baltimore: The Mysterious Murder of a Nun Who Knew Too Much"

If you have not read Laura Bassett's Huffington Post article "Buried in Baltimore: The Mysterious Murder of a Nun Who Knew Too Much," I highly encourage you to do so. It's not easy reading, and you may not be able to shake the essay, having read it.

But necessary reading for those trying to wrap their minds around the abuse situation in the Catholic church, to come to terms with the depths of corruption from which the abuse and its cover-up emanate, and to understand why it was that, for such a very long time, Catholic institutions implicated in abuse were able to evade the law and media coverage.

Bassett tells the story of the never-solved murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik of Baltimore in 1969, and the intersecting story of Father Joseph Maskell, chaplain of the all-girls school, Archbishop Keough, at which Cesnik taught. An excerpt:

Former Keough students said Maskell used his charm, psychology training and moral authority to first disarm the young girls, then to manipulate them into sexual relationships. He targeted struggling or badly behaved students — [Gemma] Hoskins and [Abbie] Schaub, who got straight As, said he never bothered them -- asking the girls if they were having problems at home, or if they had been sexually active with their boyfriends or used drugs. Sometimes the priest used repetitive phrases -- "I only want what's best for you, just what’s best for you," one woman recalled him saying -- to coax them into talking.


The women [who have alleged as adults that Maskell raped them at Archbishop Keough] recall that Maskell had a gynecologist friend, Dr. Richter, who would examine them to make sure they weren’t pregnant. [Teresa] Lancaster claims Maskell took her to see Richter for a pregnancy test and then raped her on the table while Richter performed a breast exam. 

And then Sister Cathy began to ask questions of some of the girls in the school about whether Maskell and his colleague Father Neil Magnus (the two masturbated in front of student Jean Wehner in "spiritual healing" sessions they conducted together, she alleges) were harming them. And not long after she began to ask those questions, her body was found at a dump site outside Baltimore with choke marks around her neck and a hole in the back of her skull where she had been hit with a blunt object.

As I say, not easy reading, and nothing in me delights in recommending it to you. But necessary reading, if only to remind us of the depths of corruption that can find a comfortable place in the bowels of human communities including faith communities, despite the belief of some people in one culture after another that religious people and religious groups are incapable of such corruption. 

Basset has done her homework and tells her story extremely well. This is an essay that deserves very wide reading and wide circulation.

The photo of coverage of Sister Catherine Cesnik's disappearance by Baltimore papers is by Laura Bassett.

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