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Priest at once defended, excoriated

August 03, 1994|By Robert A. Erlandson and Joe Nawrozki | Robert A. Erlandson and Joe Nawrozki,Sun Staff Writers

However, former Keough students interviewed by The Sun, now in their 40s, tell another story, of a priest whose actions ranged from inappropriate remarks in the confessional to bizarre sexual activities, some wrapped in the sacraments of the church.

They say Father Maskell learned things about their behavior -- such as drug use or sexual activity -- that the teen-agers did not want their parents to know. Then, they said, after approaching them with offers of care and counseling, he began to make sexual demands, with threats of disclosure and humiliation as the alternative. And while attitudes have changed, they said, few adults 25 years ago would have believed such stories about a priest.

"He had an evil, manipulative power over you," said one former Keough student. "The power was that many of us experimented with drugs or were sexually active."

"He told me that nobody would believe me or my friends," the woman said. "That scared me into doing it and not breathing a word about it." Some former students said they purposely avoided him. "He was weird," said one. "He never did anything to us because me and my friends would never get near him."

A woman who knew Father Maskell from his days at Holy Cross Church in South Baltimore used the same term, calling the priest "a little weird."

"He bragged about having pistols and how he was telling people off. I didn't want no truck with him. He's a real oddball," she said.

She said her encounters with Father Maskell were never sexual but were nonetheless unsettling. "He is hung up on the military." she said. "He used to get me in his office and make me wear his helmet and tell me military stories."

After one woman approached archdiocesan officials in 1992 with her allegations, they sent Father Maskell to the Institute of Living, a $900-a-day private psychiatric hospital in Connecticut. After a six-month stay, evaluators found no evidence of sexual or serious psychological disorder, according to hospital documents.

The archdiocese also employed an investigator, but after several months' work he was unable to corroborate the woman's allegations, officials said. Father Maskell returned to Baltimore and last August became pastor of St. Augustine's.

Allegations mount

The matter refused to die, however. Other former students approached three Towson attorneys who were gathering information on the case for a potential civil suit. The lawyers say they now have talked to at least a dozen women who say they were abused and many more who have second or third-hand knowledge of the incidents.

The Baltimore state's attorney's office is conducting a separate criminal investigation. Assistant State's Attorney Sharon A. H. May, head of the sex abuse unit, declined to comment yesterday.

A close friend of Father Maskell, who asked not to be identified, said yesterday that the final straw came last week. After "two years of continuous mental assault," the friend said, Father Maskell learned that "A Current Affair," the tabloid television show, was preparing a segment that would involve him.

He quoted the priest as saying, " 'I don't want a satellite truck in my driveway. I've had enough of this. I need some help handling the stress.' "

Last Wednesday, Father Maskell notified the archdiocese that he was entering an institution for psychological treatment. He left Friday, and archdiocesan officials told parishioners on Sunday.

The archdiocese refused to say where Father Maskell is being treated. The Rev. Richard W. Woy, the archdiocesan personnel director, said a temporary parish administrator would be named by today.

William Blaul, communications director for the archdiocese, refused to speak to The Sun yesterday and asked that all inquiries be in writing and faxed to his Baltimore office.

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