No completion date for probe into murder suspect priest

Fr James Maskell, the prime suspect in the murder of Sr Cesnik, fled to Wexford in 1994 and the following year was employed by the South Eastern Health Board.

A HSE investigation into the activities of a US priest at the centre of the Netflix true crime documentary The Keepers has now been running for two years.

The seven-part documentary, which became a global sensation, examined the unsolved murder of a Catholic nun and school teacher Sr Cathy Cesnik in Baltimore in 1969.

Fr James Maskell was the prime suspect in the murder, with authorities believing he killed the nun after she became aware of allegations that he had sexually abused students at the all-girls school that she taught in — the Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland.

Maskell fled to Wexford in 1994 after a victim came forward to say that, while she was a student, the priest had taken her to see Cesnik’s body and told her: “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?” The following year, he took up a position as a psychologist for the South Eastern Health Board in its Wexford Community Care for a period of six months.

He later worked in private practice in the county from 1995 to 1998. Maskell subsequently returned to the US, where he died in 2001.

Following the publicity generated by the documentary and media interest focusing on his time in Ireland, the HSE announced in June 2017 that it had launched an investigation into “any concerns arising from the temporary, short-term employment” of Maskell by the health board in 1995. However, despite being employed for just six months, the investigation has taken two years, with the HSE unable to provide any timeline for completion.

“Various phases of an examination process have been undertaken. As a step in this process and with due regard to the terms of reference for this review, an independent company was appointed following a procurement process in line with national guidelines,” said a statement.

The HSE declined to provide any timeline for the completion of the investigation and said it would not be appropriate to make any further comment “pending completion of the review”.

Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins, two former students of Sr Cesnik, are at the centre of the documentary after the pair spent years investigating their former teacher’s murder.

Catholic nun and schoolteacher Sr Cathy Cesnik’s unsolved murder was examined in the Netflix true crime documentary ‘The Keepers’.
Catholic nun and schoolteacher Sr Cathy Cesnik’s unsolved murder was examined in the Netflix true crime documentary ‘The Keepers’.

Ms Schaub told the Irish Examiner the HSE has declined to release any documentation to her under FOI in relation to how Maskell was hired by the Eastern Health Board in 1995.

“Why are they hiding this information? Is there pressure from the Catholic Church involved? The truth needs to be revealed, not hidden, so people can understand how to protect youngsters going forward. Hiding it, refusing to release information about how Maskell was hired, only protects the predators.

“My FOI requests for documents related to Maskell’s hiring in 1995 and the outcome of the HSE investigation begun nearly two years ago have been declined. It is unclear why the information is being hidden and protected,” she said.

Ms Schaub said the public has a right to know how Maskell came to be employed and his activities in Ireland, and queried why the investigation has taken so long. “The HSE announced in June of 2017 that they were going to investigate how Fr Maskell was hired to work with children in Wexford. The public has a right to understand what happened. Americans would like to know who in the US recommended Fr Maskell for employment.

“He fled to Ireland to avoid a pending trial on sexual abuse allegations in the US. Those who were harmed in America and in Ireland deserve to know the full story so other youngsters can be better protected.”

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