Women testify in sex case

May 02, 1995|By Joe Nawrozki and Robert A. Erlandson | Joe Nawrozki and Robert A. Erlandson,Sun Staff Writers

Two women testified yesterday that a Roman Catholic priest subjected them to a prolonged, often bizarre, campaign of sexual abuse -- sometimes to the strains of Irish music -- while they were students at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore more than 20 years ago.

The two plaintiffs -- identified as Jane Doe and Jane Roe -- are seeking $40 million from the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell, a former counselor and chaplain at Keough in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"I looked into my yearbook and . . . saw Father Maskell's name, and I felt an ugly stir. It hit a nerve," Ms. Doe said in clipped, monotone testimony in Baltimore Circuit Court, as she described a 1992 incident that brought back long-forgotten memories.

Also named as defendants are the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the School Sisters of Notre Dame who run Archbishop Keough, and Dr. Christian Richter, a retired Ruxton gynecologist who is accused of molesting Ms. Roe in collaboration with the priest.

Father Maskell and Dr. Richter have adamantly denied the allegations in interviews with The Sun.

After hearing from the women and expert witnesses on both sides this week, Judge Hilary D. Caplan will decide if the conditions of the women's recollections meet the legal test for an exception to Maryland's three-year statute of limitations on filing civil suits.

When they were asked how their memories had returned, the women said they occurred during housework or prayer within the past three years.

"The memories came on gradually," said Ms. Doe, now the married mother of two. "It was a gut feeling. I tried to ignore the feeling. I didn't want to remember. I had no desire to remember. It was very painful."

Lawyers for the defendants have asked Judge Caplan to dismiss the case, arguing that the women's reported memory loss does not meet the mental incompetence requirements for an exception to the statute of limitations. They have also argued that there is no accepted scientific evidence validating recovery of repressed memories.

Both women testified that Father Maskell raped them in his office at Archbishop Keough and in the rectory. During some sessions, they said, he would play recorded Irish music.

Ms. Doe testified that Father Maskell, who was also chaplain for several police agencies, warned her not to reveal the alleged attacks and threatened her with a handgun. On one occasion, she said, he put an unloaded gun to her head and pulled the trigger. On another, he put the barrel of the gun in her mouth, she testified.

Ms. Doe said the alleged abuse at Keough began with another priest. Later, she said, she went to Father Maskell "because he was praying for me to stop being bad and be open to God's grace.

"At first I thought they were helping me. I felt I deserved it, that I was making it [the alleged sexual abuse] happen, that he was taking care of me."

Ms. Doe said she learned to block out the alleged incidents as soon as Father Maskell would tell her to leave.

He would say, "Pull yourself together and don't be late for class," she recalled. "There would be the click of his door shutting, and I would forget everything."

She testified that in the spring of 1969 she related details of the alleged abuse to a Keough teaching nun, Sister Catherine Cesnick. She said Sister Catherine told her she "would take care of it."

In November of that year, Sister Catherine disappeared while on a shopping trip. In January 1970, Ms. Doe testified, Father Maskell took her to the nun's decomposing body and warned her that a similar fate could befall her if she told anyone else of the alleged abuse. The nun's body was discovered shortly afterward by two hunters.

Ms. Doe's descriptions of being taken to see Sister Catherine's body included information that had never been released publicly. As a result, Baltimore County police subsequently investigated her allegations involving the nun but could develop no hard evidence to support them. The killing remains unsolved.

After one of the alleged rapes in 1970, Ms. Roe said she attempted suicide by cutting her wrists.

"Several weeks later," she testified, "I went on my third visit to Dr. Richter, and I was raped by both of them . . .," she said. She said the priest had accompanied her on previous appointments with the gynecologist and had stayed in the room during the examinations.

On cross-examination, Attorney Shirlie N. Lake, representing Dr. Richter, pointed out inconsistencies in Ms. Roe's recollections. She also argued that Ms. Roe recovered all of her memories "after she went to the lawyers" nearly two years ago.

Ms. Roe said keeping track of exact dates after so many years was impossible.

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