“What was done to our mother wasn’t just unethical, it was abandonment,” says the brother of a Baltimore Catholic girls high school student who recently received $50,000 and an apology from AOB officials, after reporting that she was raped by two Baltimore priests. Adds Emmitsburg, Md., dentist Dr. Michael T. Hargadon, while describing the destructive impact of priestly sexual abuse first on his sister, Jean, and then on his parents and nine siblings:
“My mother had been a faithful Catholic all her life . . . and when she was told her daughter had been abused by priests, she was devastated. She became depressed and was in agony. We begged our parents’ pastor and other Church [officials] to comfort her and help her through her crisis of faith. But they turned away and did nothing, and she suffered terribly. She stood in her kitchen crying at the walls for a year.”
By Tom Nugent
May, 2018 – One year after a shocking Netflix documentary series blew the lid off widespread sexual abuse of Baltimore schoolchildren, a second story about the devastating results of that abuse is just beginning to come to light.
It’s the story of how the Archdiocese of Baltimore has all too often failed to provide spiritual guidance and comfort to the Catholic families of those who were abused, according to numerous interviews with affected family members in recent months.
That failure has been especially painful for a former Catholic parishioner – Jean Hargadon Wehner, now 64 – who says that she and her nine siblings went through a “shattering crisis of faith” after both their parents’ pastor and the high-ranking clergy who run the Archdiocese of Baltimore declined to provide spiritual guidance to their “devastated and suffering” mother in the wake of the abuse scandal, which began to unfold in the early 1990s in Baltimore.
“Soon after I made my formal statement to the Archdiocese [in late 1992] that I had been raped by two priests at Archbishop Keough High School,” says Wehner, “I became aware that my mom was having a hard time. It was horrendous. She had been an incredibly devoted and faithful Catholic all her life – and now she had to confront the fact that her daughter had been sexually abused by these people of good faith.
“She didn’t know where to turn, and she was suffering greatly. And we tried to help with that. We took her to her pastor, [the Reverend] Paschal Morlino [O.S.B.], at the [Baltimore] church, St. Benedict, where she had been a loyal parishioner for many years and had even worked as a receptionist and secretary in the parish office.”
According to Wehner, who became a key figure in the recent Netflix documentary (The Keepers) after alleging that her priest-abuser at her Catholic high school, Father Joseph Maskell, had shown her the body of a murdered whistle-blowing Keough nun, Pastor Morlino declined to help her devastated mother deal with her spiritual crisis.
“I was hopeful after meeting with Pastor Morlino that he would make an effort to help my mom,” she remembers. “She was one of his parishioners and in great need. Instead, he seemed to disappear.”
Mrs. Ethel Hargadon eventually left St. Benedict, never to return, and then suffered through continuing bouts of severe depression and spiritual anguish for many years.
Wehner’s sister, Kassy Hargadon-Zester (today a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Baltimore area), said that she and her siblings struggled hard to provide their devastated mother with “alternative spiritual [guidance] to help her fill the void. By the early 2000’s, she had managed to find a spiritual home at a neighborhood Bible study group led by a Mennonite neighbor, and also as a member of the Byzantine Catholic Church in Arbutus – which is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
“I think she found a renewed spiritual life outside of what she had known. But Mom carried the pain of her betrayal by her lifelong Catholic church in Baltimore until she finally died of heart failure in 2016.”
According to several members of the Hargadon family, Pastor Morlino, the spiritual leader at their original family’s longtime Catholic Church – St. Benedict, located on Wilkens Avenue in southwest Baltimore – later apologized to them for his failure to counsel their mother during her “hour of need”.
“It was really hard on her,” said Jean’s brother Michael, today a practicing dentist in Emmitsburg, Md. “At one point she was really suffering with all of it, so I went to the pastor and asked him, ‘Can’t you see that she’s stopped coming to [St. Benedict] on Sunday? Can’t you do something to help her?’
“I requested that he meet with Jean and my mom, which he did. Later, however, I learned that he’d told some of my siblings that he was told to stay out of the family struggle – and he did. The family consensus was that the Archdiocese had told him not to become involved, and he chose to follow their orders.”
Pastor Morlino, who has been serving as the pastor of St. Benedict Parish for more than 30 years, confirmed that officials at the Archdiocese of Baltimore had told him “you stay out of it,” after he brought the problem of Ethel Hargadon’s spiritual dilemma over her daughter’s alleged abuse to their attention in the early 1990s.
“I stayed out,” the pastor told Inside Baltimore. But he went on to point out that he’d been advised to send Mrs. Hargadon and other troubled family members to then-Auxiliary AOB Bishop John H. Ricard, S.S.J., who would provide spiritual counseling.
Pastor Morlino also confirmed that he had later apologized to members of the Hargadon family, while noting that “I told them, ‘I’m sorry. . . .’ I didn’t know what to do about it [the spiritual problems that Ethel Hargadon and other family members were experiencing], so I went and spoke to the bishop about it, and they [Archdiocesan officials] said for her [Ethel] to come and see the bishop.”
(Wehner says the message about having her mother “come and see the bishop” was never conveyed to her, however.)
Another Hargadon family member – Jean’s brother Don, who at the time was an active member of St. Benedict Parish (today he’s a practicing fiduciary in the Baltimore area) – also says he tried and failed to get Pastor Morlino to help his mother.
“I had a one-on-one meeting with him in 1994, as I remember, and I asked him why he wasn’t doing anything. That’s when he told me the AOB had told him not to get involved with the family or the situation. I said a few choice words and told him I hoped he understood [the impact of] his decision – and not to expect to see me or my wife Laural again.
“But it should also be noted that I talked to him years later at a family member’s funeral and forgave him. It is on him and the Church now.”
Responding to these complaints by Jean Hargadon’s brothers, Pastor Morlino said: “I never refused to see any of them, and when the brother came to see me I was very kind to him and informed him just as I had informed them – the mother and daughter – that I was told to have them contact the auxiliary bishop John Ricard of Baltimore, and he would provide them counseling.
“I was most sympathetic and caring to the whole family. In fact, I met with Ethel, the mother, more than once after that. I had personally conveyed the message to her in her home about setting up an appointment with Bishop John Ricard and gave her his personal phone number. My hands were tied as to what I was able to do for them.”
Jean Wehner, meanwhile, was careful to note that she blames the Archdiocese of Baltimore far more for the failure to counsel her mother than she blames Pastor Morlino – while pointing out that “it isn’t so much about what Father Paschal did or didn’t do. It’s about a hierarchy that can dictate the actions of the spiritual leader of a congregation.”
Jean’s brother Michael also expressed disappointment at what he described as the Archdiocesan failure to comfort and counsel his mother. “I have never missed an opportunity to complain about my family’s treatment by the AOB,” said Michael Hargadon, who was a parishioner at Holy Family Catholic Church in Randallstown and a Grand Knight in the Knights of Columbus Council during his mother’s spiritual struggle in the 1990s.
He went on to say that the AOB’s failure to help caused his family great consternation – and that he tried to enlist the aid of the Archdiocese by contacting Father Ed Bayer, then the pastor at Holy Family Church. Responding, Father Bayer “wrote a letter to Cardinal [Wiliam] Keeler asking for [help in] healing the rift,” he said.
In his letter to Cardinal Keeler, Father Bayer reportedly said that “Maskell may be out of sight in Ireland, but this family is not. . . . There are an increasing number of people who know about it [the abuse and the neglect of the Hargadons by the AOB] and . . . consider themselves rightly scandalized by it.”
As a result of the Bayer letter, said Michael Hargadon, “Pastor Morlino was instructed to pay a visit to my parents – four years after being told to ‘stay out of it.’”
While the Hargadon Family was Losing its Faith,
Jean Was Being “Attacked” by the AOB’s Lawyers
Jean Hargadon Wehner and her siblings are also quick to point out that watching the Catholic Church fail to comfort their mother and father – who were struggling with the brutal impact of hearing that their daughter had been raped by both Catholic priests and police officers – wasn’t the only injury they received from AOB officials during the 1990s.
According to Wehner, Catholic Church lawyers also did everything they could to besmirch her reputation and destroy her credibility, while requiring her to submit to 21 grueling hours of interrogatories . . . after she filed a 1994 “Jane Doe” lawsuit (along with another plaintiff) in which she contended that she’d been raped by a Catholic priest, Father A. Joseph Maskell, while attending Archbishop Keough High School in southwest Baltimore.
During that lawsuit – which was ultimately dismissed on a technicality when a Baltimore judge ruled that the statute of limitations for filing the case had expired – “Jane Doe” told the Baltimore Sun that Maskell (then the Keough chaplain) had taken her to see the decaying body of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, which was later discovered (Jan. 3, 1970), on a patch of waste ground in the Baltimore suburb of Lansdowne, Md.
Still unsolved after thousands of hours of investigation by Maryland police and the FBI, the shocking case made national headlines recently, when retired Baltimore-area homicide detectives told Huffington Post that the Catholic Church had used its powerful influence to impede their investigation of the Cesnik murder (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/14/cesnik-nun-murder-maskell_n_7267532.html).
The HuffPost’s reports of Church interference in the investigations were further substantiated last year by the Emmy-nominated Netflix documentary The Keepers (https://www.netflix.com/title/80122179), which quoted more than half a dozen abuse victims and other witnesses to that effect.
Although the Church recently awarded Wehner $50,000 and an apology for the “injuries” she received at the hands of Maskell, AOB officials have continued to this day to insist that they knew nothing of the abuse by the Keough chaplain until long after the mid-1990s lawsuit.
But that assertion has been challenged by several other alleged victims who say they reached out to the AOB to report abuse by Maskell – starting as far back as the late 1960s.
During the 1990s lawsuit, says Wehner, attorneys for Maskell, the AOB and the School Sisters of Notre Dame (the teaching order of nuns that operated Archbishop Keough High School) spent many hours contending that she was an unstable, dubious witness whose memories of abuse at the hands of Maskell could not be trusted.
“The Church lawyers deposed me for 21 hours,” Wehner told Inside Baltimore in a recent interview, “and it was deeply traumatic. They were condescending, patronizing, insulting and degrading. I was being subjected to this relentless and painful questioning by their lawyers, while the Church was quietly refusing to provide any spiritual guidance to me, my parents or my family.
“The worst part of all was when they decided to call my prayer journals ‘diaries’ – and then to go through them with a fine-toothed comb. They then proceeded to interrogate me about my prayer and my soul-searching experiences, asking me about passages meant only for me and God.
“I honestly think they saw how fragile I was and hoped I would break. They violated my inner sacred space. This experience has affected me ever since.”
Another 1960s Maskell Abuse Victim, Dr. Charles Franz, Says Family
Was Angered by AOB’s Decades-Long Refusal to Help Them Cope
Like Jean Wehner, now retired Baltimore-area dentist Dr. Charles Franz says his family was deeply affected by the AOB’s failure to help him – and them – after his mother reported that her son was being abused by Maskell in the late 1960s.
“I told my mother what he was doing to me, and she went down to Archdiocesan headquarters and complained,” says Dr. Franz, whose painful story was documented in detail in The Keepers.
“But they did nothing to help her cope with the situation. They soon transferred Maskell [in 1967] from [serving as assistant pastor at] St. Clement Parish [in Lansdowne] to the chaplain’s office at Archbishop Keough High School – but he continued to live in the St. Clement rectory and he went on to stalk me throughout all four years of high school.”
Dr. Franz says his mother was deeply affected by the “betrayal” of the decision-makers at the Catholic Center in Baltimore. “She had grown up as a faithful Catholic,” he recalled during a recent interview, “and she trusted these people completely. And when they let her down, there was nothing she could do.
“She didn’t dare tell my father, because he was a pipe-fitter and a very tough guy – and she was afraid that if she told him, he might go and kill the priest. So she kept it within, and dealt with it alone, and I’m sure that was terribly difficult for her.”
Desperate to get help, the youthful Charles Franz explained his plight to another priest, who was then the pastor at St. Clement [during the late 1960s], Father (later Monsignor) Jack C. Collopy, who he says expressed sympathy for his plight as an abused teenager but declined to confront his clerical superiors over the matter.
Years later, says Dr. Franz, he got to know Monsignor Collopy very well, after the latter became his dental patient.
“He said that he was terribly sorry, but that when he tried to alert his superiors at the AOB that Maskell was abusing students, they responded by threatening to take his pension away if he didn’t remain silent about the abuse.
“I really felt bad for him,” said Dr. Franz, after noting that the priest had died in 2015. “He told me, ‘Charles, I apologize for the way I failed you, but I didn’t have any other [professional] skills to rely on, and I would have had no way to survive financially if I lost my pension.’
“I forgave him, of course, and got on with my life. But the whole thing made me sad – sad about what happened to my mother, and to a lot of other Catholic families as well. And it also made me really cynical – not about the spiritual aspects of Catholicism, but rather the business of the Catholic Church.”
Reacting to Dr. Franz’ description of his mother’s reported complaint about the abuse of her son by Maskell to the AOB in the late 1960s, Jean Wehner pointed out that AOB officials have often insisted that they “knew nothing” about any complaints of sexual abuse by Joseph Maskell until the early 1990s, as the lawsuit against him was gradually taking shape.
“From my very first meeting in the summer of 1992 with AOB representative Father Richard Woy,” said Wehner, “I was told – along with my husband Mike Wehner and my sister Kassy Hargadon-Zester – that I was the first to voice a complaint of this type about Joseph Maskell.
“We then met Charles [Franz] through The Keepers and knew differently. My family immediately wanted to do something to support Charles and thank him for courageously speaking his truth.”
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