A seven-episode Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) documentary series about a priest’s alleged abuse has prompted a petition for the Baltimore Archdiocese to release files related to his tenure. “The Keepers” series focuses on abuse at then-Archbishop Keough High School and the unsolved death of a Catholic nun. The documentary is the latest smash hit on Netflix, highlighting the popularity of true crime stories in America.
The priest at the center of the furor is A. Joseph Maskell, who died in 2001. According to the series, Maskell was allegedly a dangerous pedophile who exerted psychological domination over his victims. The series explores the theory that a nun at the school, 26-year-old Cathy Cesnik, was killed because of her knowledge of Maskell’s abuse. Cesnik was killed in 1969.
Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, two students of Sister Cathy, created a Facebook page to try to learn the truth about the death of their teacher. The two women sleuthed through decades’ worth of files and created an online posse of detectives to help them with the case. The stunning information uncovered by pair is revealed over the course of the series’ episodes.
The archdiocese initially removed Maskell from the ministry when Keough alumna Jean Wehner reported allegations of abuse in 1992. However, he returned to his position the following year after officials said they couldn’t corroborate the accusations. Maskell was removed again in 1994 after more people came forward. Wehner relates her story in “The Keepers.”
Maskell’s files could answer questions about what diocesan authorities knew about him in the 1960s. Before his death, he denied the abuse allegations and was never charged. The archdiocese has since paid $472,000 in settlements to 16 people who accused him of abuse.
An online petition for the release of the files reached more than 11,000 signatures, according to a report by the Baltimore Sun. The petition states, “The release of these documents will restore public trust in the Archdiocese, and confirm the Archdiocese statements regarding their handling of the sexual abuse claims.” Series director Ryan White said producers asked for the files while working on the documentary only to be denied multiple times. People with information about the case are now either deceased or elderly.
State law would bar the release of much of the confidential information, according to Archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine. Caine said, “Archdiocesan policy and state law would preclude us from disclosing much of the information in them as they include confidential personal information (e.g. names of alleged sexual abuse victims), personnel records, health records, attorney-client communications, personally identifying information (such as social security numbers), etc.”
Other dioceses have released similar types of files with certain information redacted. In 2013, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles released 128 files of clergy who were the subject of a 2007 sexual abuse settlement. The Milwaukee and Chicago archdioceses have also released records in recent years.