Six survivors described being systematically molested, drugged, and raped within school walls by multiple members of the clergy in Netflix’s docu-series “The Keepers,” but additional victims have come forward since its release. Father A. Joseph Maskell, and possibly others, is accused of assaulting multiple students and teachers at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School in the 1960s.
Until just a few months ago, Ann Mroz, 63, told Oxygen.com she had no idea she was one of those survivors. She’d long left the Baltimore area, was married at 24 years old, and had sons before settling in Florida. After receiving a card from an old friend and a news article about the rampant abuse at her alma mater from a family member, the details that flooded back from her teenage years were shocking.
“Things started coming back to me. It was chilling,” Mroz told Oxygen.com, recounting her allegations that she was one of the victims of school counselor and chaplain Father A. Joseph Maskell, but not to the extent of some of the other students. "I was sexually abused by Maskell."
Allegations of Maskell’s sexual abuse began to surface in 1992. In 1994, two former students sued the Balitmore Archdiocese, but a court found they’d filed the lawsuit too late. The statute of limitations had expired, and the lawsuit was thrown out. Allegations against Maskell continued to mount from other alleged survivors, and the church ultimately barred Maskell from his priestly duties in 1995. Maskell died in 2001, and in 2016 the Archdiocese included Maskell on a list of priests and others who it deemed credibly accused of sexual assault.
Raised in a devout Catholic family in Baltimore, Maryland, Mroz’s parents sent her to Keough from 1968 to 1972. As a student in high school, she went to Maskell for advice on the usual “teenage stuff.” Decades later, Mroz said she is only now beginning the process of healing from what transpired during those visits.
“After years and years, it’s really hard to say, but some things you just need to bring out in order to heal,” she said. “I had no clue that my memories going back that other girls in my class had been going through the suffering they did too. I felt it was that time I needed to explore and get things out of my system.”
Mroz reported her allegations that Maskell abused her to the church, and with legal representation, she hopes to work with church representatives through mediation, and declined to give further details about her alleged assault due to these ongoing discussions. In total, the church has paid out $472,000 in settlements to 16 of Maskell’s alleged victims, according to the Baltimore Sun. The church has also paid an additional $97,000 in counseling services.
Mroz’s story rings eerily familiar with those brought to life by “The Keepers.” Another survivor, Donna Von Den Bosh, spoke in the docu-series about her experience with Maskell. Von Den Bosh said Maskell would pull her out of class, call her into his office and assault her. She said Maskell wasn’t the only man present, and described abuse by Maskell and another school official that included taking photos of her, as a minor, naked, and calling her in for joint counseling sessions during which they would masturbate in front of her.
Jean Wehner, who was one of the anonymous victims who initially sued the church, said in the series she too began to recover her memory from high school, when she would go see her school counselor, Maskell. She said he showed her the dead body of a teacher, Sister Cathy Cesnik (pictured), who’d gone missing and threatened her with the same fate if she ever told anyone about their sexual encounters. Since “The Keepers” release, more than 40,000 people have signed a petition asking the Archdiocese to release documents regarding Maskell’s alleged abuse. According to a lawyer representing Mroz and according to the Keepers, the total number of Maskell victims could be more than 40.
“It wasn’t a relief that others were harmed, but I feel like it was comforting that I do have other people that I could talk to for support who could understand what I experienced too," Mroz said.
“The Keepers” highlights components of the culture surrounding the church and practicing families that may have contributed to a continuation of the abuse. According to the film, the power held both inside and outside of the church, as well as the local connections priests had with law enforcement, made the abuse less likely to be stopped – and could have made coverups easier. The church community is portrayed as insular, with its members and leaders interwoven into one another’s lives and families. Teachings from the church’s leaders, Mroz said, became manipulative. “[Church leaders] frequented in my household. [My parents] considered them our counselors and everything else. My mother worked for a Catholic school, not where I went but another local Catholic school, and my mother was very active in mothers club. Priests and brothers were regular guests.” Mroz said. “Catholicism is the true religion and you’re going to go to hell if you believe any other way. It’s brainwashing, in a way."
The archdiocese released a statement prior to the docu-series’ release in May of last year stating the church did not become aware of abuse by Maskell until 1992—20 years after the abuse.
“Their abuse was horribly tragic and the Archdiocese remains deeply saddened and regretful that someone representing the Church could have perpetrated such crimes against children,” the statement read. “Suggestions of a cover-up by the archdiocese are speculative and false.”
Sean Caine, Vice Chancellor at the Archdiocese of Baltimore, confirmed the church has been in communication with Mroz's lawyers regarding her alleged assault, but also said they have not engaged in mediation. "The Archdiocese reported this matter immediately to civil authorities. The Archdiocese has not engaged in any mediation or entered into any settlement agreement with Ms. Mroz and/or her attorney, Ms. Suder, regarding this allegation," Caine told Oxygen.com.
Like Mroz, Sister Cathy Cesnik also had members of the church, including priests, frequent her home. Cesnik, however, met a different fate, and was found murdered in 1969. “The Keepers” theorized that Cesnik may have discovered Maskell’s assaults and been killed to prevent that information from getting out.
Now, more than 40 years later, victims are coming forward. Like many of Maskell’s victims, Mroz’s memory wasn’t fully in tact, and she had other reasons for not speaking up sooner — one of which was her family. Further preventing her from coming forward with her experience were issues of embarrassment and family dynamics, during a time when she said growing up, parents and children did not discuss personal subjects like sex.
"I was brought up in a very strict Catholic household. I couldn’t even talk about menstruation much less anything else pertaining to sexual activity with my mother in particular. I found out more things on a sexual basis from my sibling than I could have from my parents."
To this day, Mroz has not returned to Baltimore. She is now taking steps toward reaching a resolution with the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and, she hopes, peace with the questions that remain.
“Why did they allow us harm when they are supposed to be following a loving god, a protecting god, and yet we were victimized?” asked Mroz.
[Photo: The Keepers]