New Evidence Links Merzbacher Child-Rape Case To Rampant 1970s Sex Abuse at Keough High School, According to Former Police Investigators in Maryland

“The Rapes at the Two Catholic Schools Are Connected”

Keough Priest-Suspect in Murder of Teaching Nun Was
Also Involved in an Apparent Cover-Up of Abuse at
Merzbacher’s School in S. Baltimore, Say Former Cops

By Tom Nugent

June 2015 — Twenty years after convicted child-rapist John Merzbacher received four life sentences plus ten years for his crimes at a South Baltimore Catholic middle school, there is new evidence to show that a later-defrocked, sex-abusing priest at a city Catholic high school was also involved in helping to cover up the middle school abuse, according to former high-ranking Maryland police officials who did not wish to be identified.

The newly emerging evidence is the first to suggest that there were significant links between the sex crimes at the Catholic Community Middle School in the Locust Point section of the city and the widely reported Archbishop Keough High School sexual abuse. That abuse was accompanied by the 1969 murder of former Keough teaching sister Catherine Ann Cesnik.

The murder of the nun (who was reportedly killed while trying to blow the whistle on rape and other sexual assaults at Keough) and the Keough chaplain’s suspected role in her death were both described in massive detail in a lengthy story recently published by Huffington Post.

The Huffington Post story quoted a retired Baltimore homicide detective who said that Father A. Joseph Maskell became a key figure during the early days of the murder investigation.  “It got to the point that Maskell was the number one guy we wanted to talk to,” said the detective, “but we never got a chance.”  The detective was never able to interview the priest, he said in the HP story, while also noting that “the Catholic Church had a lot of input into the police department, a lot of power.”

The Huffington Post story (http://huff.to/1Q1EKqd) did not mention the horrific child-rapes that had taken place at the Catholic middle school in Locust Point during roughly the same period as the Keough abuse.  But a two-year investigation by Inside Baltimore of the sexual abuse that occurred at both Keough and Catholic Community Middle School in South Baltimore – both of which were operated by the School Sisters of Notre Dame – has revealed significant connections between them.

Among the more troubling of the findings to emerge from recent interviews with retired Maryland police investigators is the fact that Maskell – the Keough abuser-priest suspected by some police investigators of involvement in the nun’s murder in 1969 – also performed a detailed “psychological evaluation” of one of the abused children at the Locust Point Catholic school where Merzbacher taught.

According to investigators, the authorities at Merzbacher’s school required the child to undergo the evaluation by Maskell, who reportedly had a master’s degree in school psychology from then-Towson State University and a “certificate of advanced study in counseling” from The Johns Hopkins University.

The school authorities reportedly called for the evaluation soon after the child told schoolmates about witnessing Merzbacher having sexual intercourse – in the middle of the school day – with the nun who was then serving as principal of the Catholic middle school.

“The school told the parents that their child would be dismissed from the school if [the child] didn’t submit to the psychological evaluation,” said one investigator.  “And the school authorities also insisted that they should be allowed to provide the psychologist for the evaluation.

“They chose Father Maskell to perform the evaluation.” His findings were then reportedly used to attack the credibility of the child who’d told schoolmates about the sexual activity between Merzbacher and the nun, according to investigators.

Even more disturbingly, said the former police officials, Maskell in 1975 was assigned to the Baltimore Archdiocese Division of Schools at Archdiocesan headquarters – where he reportedly helped to shape curriculum and management procedures for Catholic schools throughout the entire Baltimore area during the next five years.

Meanwhile, the notorious abuses at the Catholic Community Middle School continued.  Merzbacher taught there until 1979 and was not arrested and convicted for his crimes at the Locust Point school until the 1990s.

“If you look at the pattern of events during the early 1970s,” said one former police investigator, “it seems pretty clear that the Archdiocese had to know about the abuse that was occurring at both Keough and Catholic Community Middle School.”

The former investigator also noted that court-related documents from the Merzbacher trial show clearly that when a teacher at the Locust Point school reported the abuse to two Baltimore Archdiocesan priests in the mid-1970s, the Archdiocese soon fired the whistleblowing teacher.

An official transcript from the Merzbacher criminal proceedings describes in graphic detail what reportedly happened to the Locust Point child who was later psychologically evaluated by Maskell, as follows:  “[The Child’s] first encounter with Merzbacher was in the sixth grade when Merzbacher suddenly started punching [the child], throwing [the child] against the locker and beating [the child] up. Thereafter, Merzbacher would force [the child] to engage in oral sex with him after class.  

This type of abuse continued through the year and the next two years, and would frequently occur in front of other teachers.     Merzbacher would threaten [the child] . . . by showing [the child] where he had [earlier] shot his gun through the wall.  More than once, Merzbacher would point the gun at [the child], telling [the child] ‘if you ever tell anybody, I’ll kill you.   I’ll kill your father, I’ll kill your mother, I’ll kill your whole family’ . . .

“According to [the child], [the child] witnessed Merzbacher engaging in sexual intercourse with the principal [a School Sisters of Notre Dame nun].  After [the child] began telling other students about this incident, Merzbacher put his arms around [the child’s] neck and said, ‘I’ll kill you. And don’t you tell anybody. And you’re a crazy bastard.’” 

It was soon after the child “began telling other students” about the alleged sexual activity between Merzbacher and the nun that Father A. Joseph Maskell was summoned by the school to perform the “psychological evaluation” of the child, according to former investigators.

Some investigators say they are also troubled by the huge amounts of “settlement money” the Archdiocese has been paying to sexual abuse survivors since 2002 . . . with much of the cash reportedly going to survivors from both Keough High School and the Merzbacher school.

Only about two months ago, an official at the Maryland Catholic Conference (often described as the Church’s “political lobbying arm” in Maryland) told the Baltimore Sun that the Archdiocese of Baltimore had paid more than $8.7 million to compensate alleged abuse survivors and pay for their counseling, since 2002.

According to the Sun story (http://bsun.md/1G3a1lq ), a Catholic Conference official explained that the Baltimore diocese has a policy of offering voluntary settlements “regardless of the amount of time that has passed” after alleged sex abuse.  But the Catholic Conference official did not explain where the nearly $9 million to pay the Archdiocese of Baltimore abuse survivors had come from.

Some of the survivors who received the settlement money later told Inside Baltimore that they were asked to sign forms saying they would never seek additional compensation from the Archdiocese.  Others said they were also asked to sign “confidentiality agreements” in return for the money.

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7 responses

  1. We are screaming for justice for these survivors. Other good people all over the world are responding with care, support, love, tears, and encouragement. Hundreds have come forward to voice their opinions and to hail the brave survivors. Why has no one in the church and other institutions involved (schools, law enforcement, politicians, clergy) come forward? There has been SILENCE Denial of a crime against humanity does not take it away or make it acceptable. These men and women are speaking up and telling their stories. Why are the institutions that know and turn away and write checks not finally willing to take responsibility for the horrors and subsequent cover-up? We are not going to let them do that. Are we?? NEVER. NO

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  2. For those who claim to lead or represent the Catholic Church: The names of victims of sexual abuse and torture will never be carved on one of your new buildings or engraved on one of your stained glassed windows but our voices will cry out for justice from underneath the cornerstones that you have laid in order to build up an institution of bricks and mortar. An institution who has turned the suffering Christ into the head of its firm while the caretakers of the church no longer recognize the Lord. Perhaps one day the suffering Christ will once again take his rightful place as head of His church on earth and you can relieve his suffering by wearing his crown of thorns and placing your ecclesiastical mitre on his head. Telling the truth would be a significant start.

    My voice will never be silenced in the face of such criminal behavior. My prayers are with the Maskell victims/survivors.

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  3. Jor Maskell and his buddy William “Bill” Simms were both friends and both pedophiles that the church covered up for for decades. The Arch even knew about their problems before both were ordained ! Simms and Maskell both sexual assaulted and abused boys the the St Martins Camp in the late 1950s when both Simms and Maskell were “student priests”. Shame on the Arch for allowing these evil monsters for inflicting emotional trauma on minors while Lord above.

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