Corruption in the Catholic Church | Cathy Cesnik
In The Episode
Trevor Young 00:03
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Rasha Pecoraro 00:27
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Facing Evil from Tenderfoot TV and iHeart Radio. We are your hosts, I'm Rasha Pecoraro.
Yvette Gentile 00:36
And I am Yvette Gentile. And as always, we are with our amazing producer, Mr. Trevor Young.
Trevor Young 00:42
Hey, hey, how's it going?
Rasha Pecoraro 00:44
Yvette Gentile 00:45
Trevor Young 00:46
So I know we have a pretty interesting case coming up today, very important case has to do with the existence of, you know, sexual assaults in the Catholic Church, which I know can be a very touchy issue. And we're gonna get into a very, I think, powerful story that illustrates some of those issues. But, you know, in that vein, I was thinking back as we were starting research for this case, about the movie Spotlight. I don't know if y'all remember watching that it had Michael Keaton, but it was about some of the very real life events involving sexual misconduct in the Catholic Church in Boston it was a very good movie. I think it won best picture of the year it came out.
Yvette Gentile 01:27
Yeah, I remember that movie very well. You know, me myself being Catholic, and, you know, becoming a Catholic, actually, when I got married to my husband, who was you know, born and raised in the Catholic community, but for me, my mom couldn't remember if she had been baptized or not. And I just really wanted that blessing.
Rasha Pecoraro 01:49
If you had been baptized or not, right?
Yvette Gentile 01:51
Yeah. If I had been baptized or not, but yeah, I I do remember that movie. And it's, it's a very, very sad movie. But I also want to talk about The Keepers. And we're going to get into that, you know, much later in the episode, but my voice is a little hoarse, because I just had laryngitis. But while I was home, I spent seven hours watching this particular documentary called The Keepers, and it was mind blowing, and we will talk about that later. And Trevor, now, will you take us through today's case?
Archive Clip 02:34
I've talked to the hunter that found Cathy and he said since the day that he found her, the police have never talked to him, except for that day,
They sought to do the same thing that senior church leaders in the diocese we investigated, have done for decades, bury the sexual abuse by priests upon children and cover it up forever.
Rasha Pecoraro 02:55
And I can hear Cathy saying, I told you I'd take care of this. And I said, I didn't think you meant 20 years later.
Trevor Young 03:01
Sister Catherine Cesnik was a young teacher at a Catholic school in Baltimore, Maryland. Early on the evening of November 7, 1969. She disappeared while out running errands in her neighborhood. The next morning two friends found Sister Cathy's car parked haphazardly nearby, but weeks went by with no sign of Cathy. Finally, on January 3. 1970, the body of Sister Catherine Cesnik was found in a remote area south of the city. No one was ever charged with her murder. But some of the investigators were suspicious of the community and the Catholic school where she taught, especially one of the priests. In the years that followed, more and more sinister events came to light painting a story of sexual abuse and intimidation at the hands of a powerful diocese that controlled everyone in its territory, including the police. And so what happened to Cathy Cesnik? Why weren't the police able to make a determination in her case? And what does the story reveal about the dark secrets of the Catholic Church?
Yvette Gentile 04:13
Okay, you guys, this is one that we really have to buckle up for. I mean, this case just gets more and more crazy, you know, as you go along. The stories that we've told this season, they've touched on some major issues, and today really is no different. But we're looking at sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, which is a huge, huge issue that is still very prevalent today.
Trevor Young 04:42
Yeah, it's really just, I think one of many, you know, it seems like every year there's another story of how this sort of widescale abuse is allowed to go on somewhere or it's just swept under the rug entirely right. And you know, I think no matter your personal faith, this story, especially illustrates the the enormous power that a religious group or institution can have over an entire city, a community and neighborhood. And I think that's super dangerous in this story is a huge example of that.
Rasha Pecoraro 05:12
Yeah, I couldn't agree more, Trevor, it's a very dangerous issue. I was actually doing some research. And the numbers don't lie. They show that in the United States alone, more than 11,000 complaints have been documented by victims of abuse by priests. Like, that's a lot.
Yvette Gentile 05:30
Yeah, that's a lot. And you have to remember too that, just those that have told their stories, right?
Rasha Pecoraro 05:36
Right. The documented cases, right.
Yvette Gentile 05:39
There are so many other people that have not even come out yet. So yeah, that number is shocking. But you know, there's way more
Rasha Pecoraro 05:49
Yeah, way more. Yeah. And there are numbers like that for countries all over the world, not just the U.S. So this story of Sister Catherine Cesnik just brings this issue down to a human scale, right. It's just a super insane, crazy story. But sister Cathy Cesnik was a human.
Trevor Young 06:11
Yeah, so let's talk about Cathy Cesnik then. She grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she had three siblings, was supposedly very bright, and by many accounts just had this very sparkling personality. She was also an achiever. She was senior class president, a member of Student Council and even May Queen at her school. But she was also a valedictorian of her high school. And then after that, she joined the School Sisters of Notre Dame. So she then goes on to be a teacher at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland. It was an all girl school, and she taught English there as well as drama. And everyone said that her students loved her. She was you know, everybody's favorite teacher.
Yvette Gentile 06:53
Yeah. So I read this Huffington Post article, and it says that Sister Cathy Cesnik, was a real life version of Maria, like the Julie Andrews character from The Sound of Music. I mean, she was super exuberant, she sang she played her guitar, and her students would even drop by her apartment, you know, and they would sing and dance. And you know, when I hear that, I think of like, Sister Act...
Rasha Pecoraro 07:21
Yvette Gentile 07:21
You know, the character in Sister Act, sister, Mary Robert, who is like always smiling and, you know, happy to see your students and so giving like she seemed exactly like that.
Rasha Pecoraro 07:36
Yeah. All of those beautiful things that you've just said about her Yvette, I think it absolutely makes what happened next so heartbreaking. On the evening of November 7, 1969, she left her apartment, which she happened to share with another nun. She left to go buy a gift for her sister's engagement party. It was around 7:30 at night that she left to go and go on this errand. And apparently she got into her car, stopped at the bank to cash her paycheck. And then she went to a local bakery and bought some bakery buns. And that was the last time anyone ever saw her alive.
Trevor Young 08:17
We'll talk about what happened after we take a quick break.
Rasha Pecoraro 08:23
So after Sister Cathy Cesnik didn't return home, her roommate was of course frantic. And she later told reporters "Nuns in their order didn't stay out late. And Kathy would have called if she needed to run an additional errand." but now it was 11 o'clock at night and she hadn't heard from her. So she called a couple of priests who were their good friends. So these particular priests came over immediately. And they had learned what had happened at 4:40 in the morning, the priests decided to take a walk around the area. That's when they found Cathy's car. It was parked carelessly across the street from the apartment, even though she had her own designated parking spot right behind the building. And it didn't look good. They saw signs of a struggle, including a broken umbrella in the backseat. They called the police who found that box of bakery buns she had purchased along with leaves and twigs. Branches had also been caught in the cars antenna.
Trevor Young 09:29
Yeah, so a quick sidebar that we should mention about one of the priests who comes over to investigate. His name was Gerard Coupe. And he was apparently totally like in love with Cathy Cesnik, and that is a whole myriad of problems.
Yvette Gentile 09:44
Trevor Young 09:45
You know, Yvette, you can probably chime in here but my understanding is that in the Catholic Church, you know, you're not supposed to have any sort of romantic relationships. Certainly not nuns, but I don't think priests either, is that correct?
Yvette Gentile 09:56
That is very true. That is very true. You take us Take a vow. Yeah.
Rasha Pecoraro 10:01
So priests and nuns take vows?
Yvette Gentile 10:03
And nuns Yes.
Trevor Young 10:05
Right. Right. So in fact, you know, two years before this event happened before either them had actually taken said vows, Cathy and Gerard had spent, I guess a lot of time together, they had written each other letters. He even asked her to marry him, but she turned him down, I guess wanting to, you know, maintain her job.
Rasha Pecoraro 10:24
Trevor Young 10:24
And apparently, three days before she disappeared, he even called her one last time to tell her that he loved her. And he told her, he would leave the priesthood to marry her, if she'd leave the nunhood to, you know, for them to be together. And I don't think she went for it.
Yvette Gentile 10:40
I'm not sure what to think, you know, like, was it romantic? Or is it suspicious, I kind of always go back to Rasha, you know, when she says it's always the boyfriend or...
Rasha Pecoraro 10:50
Yvette Gentile 10:50
It's always the romantic, you know, the love interest. But, you know, I do feel like this is how rumors get started.
Rasha Pecoraro 11:00
Unrequited love leads to something. Yeah.
Yvette Gentile 11:02
Trevor Young 11:03
I think it's maybe possibly romantic in, you know, the case of there not being a homicide involved.
Rasha Pecoraro 11:09
True. True. True.
Trevor Young 11:11
But the fact that someone was killed, you know, I think makes it very suspicious. You know, and even if there wasn't a death involved in this, you know, there's something I think kind of creepy about it. You know, it's not quite to the level of, you know, say a stalker, which we talked about on the previous episode. But somebody who's just kind of so obsessed that they're willing to forego certain boundaries that someone has put up in their lives, always strikes me as problematic. You know, that's, that's always a bit of a red flag for me, asking someone to leave the nunhood to run off with them, you know, and they've clearly said that they were like, uncomfortable with this before, right? Like, I think there's probably something there to look at. That's not what it should be.
Rasha Pecoraro 11:51
Trevor Young 11:53
And, in fact, police actually brought Gerard Coupe in for questioning, but he had an alibi of having been at the movies earlier that night. So I guess that was that he had a solid alibi for where he was.
Rasha Pecoraro 12:05
So it wasn't the unrequited love interest? Got it. So there ends up being a massive manhunt with 35 Baltimore officers and residents of the area joining in sweeping a 14 block area of Southwest Baltimore, but they don't find anything. And more importantly, Baltimore Police tell the media, they do not believe foul play was involved.
Yvette Gentile 12:32
Yeah, I mean, that and that strikes me as just that statement alone. When you you don't really know. Right? That's political agenda. I mean to me, right, because there were sticks and branches that were found in her car and other clear signs of a struggle. But the police say that they don't think that there's foul play. So that doesn't sit too well.
Rasha Pecoraro 12:57
But finally, on January 3, Cathy's body is found by a father and a son out on a hunting trip in Lansdowne, which I believe that's a remote area south of Baltimore.
Trevor Young 13:10
Yep, I've actually driven through there.
Rasha Pecoraro 13:12
Trevor Young 13:13
Yeah, anyways, the police said it was likely that she had been either carried or forced to walk down there. And an autopsy found a skull fracture caused by a blow to her head with some sort of blunt instrument. Most likely a brick they said and the pathologist noted that the "disarray of clothing suggested possible rape." But unfortunately, that's about as far as the police get with this. Investigators work on the case up until 1977. But, you know, honestly, they're unable to make any real breakthrough. Due they say to the lack of any physical evidence in the case, even though we know there's quite a bit, so in 1977, they close the case.
Rasha Pecoraro 13:51
But that is not the end of the story. So fast forward to 1994, two former students of Archbishop Keough, that's the school where sister Cathy Cesnik taught, filed a lawsuit against a priest in that school whose name is Joseph Maskull. So the suit claims he sexually abused them repeatedly when they were students there. The women filing the suit are named Jean Waner and Teresa Lancaster. And apparently these are not the first accusations Maskull has faced by the way. In fact, back in the 1960s and 70s Maskull was widely feared in the school because everyone including the students and the staff knew he was a predator. But no one spoke up about it.
Yvette Gentile 14:38
Right so you guys know how I love documentaries and I talked about this earlier. In the beginning of our episode about this documentary The Keepers, and in it Teresa Lancaster says, when you were called over the loudspeaker to report to Father Maskull a dead silence would come over the Classroom and other girls would look at you with sad eyes. And the teacher would just look down. They knew something was going on.
Rasha Pecoraro 15:09
Wow. And then he gets accused of this. It's so so disgustingly awful. And it's so shameful right like it's like this abuse has been normalized like that mom stood up for for her son, but no one was standing up for these girls at Keo. It's yeah, it's heartbreaking to me.
Trevor Young 15:30
Right. So obviously, these claims against father Maskull are pretty egregious. And Teresa Lancaster said that father Maskull took her to a gynecologist named Christian Richter, who prescribed douches that the priest then administered himself in his school office, and numerous others after this stepped forward to say that he assaulted them frequently in his office. This is not a one time occurrence. And I think it's also important to note here that these claims are in fact corroborated by court records, as well as interviews with up to eight other Keo students. So there's clearly a pattern here, right?
Yvette Gentile 16:06
Rasha Pecoraro 16:07
and he wasn't stopped. Oh, I'm so grossed out. Yeah, so basically, this was an open secret and this reign of terror by a criminal man who used his power as a priest and his power in the church as an authoritative figure, to literally intimidate everyone. But I feel the most for these young girls who were students at this school. And they were completely trapped. They probably felt like they had nowhere to go.
Yvette Gentile 16:41
Exactly. And no one to tell, you know, but we also know that this did not go unnoticed. And at least one person did try to stop it from the inside. And that person was Sister Cathy Cesnik.
Trevor Young 16:59
Yes. And this gets into a big conspiracy. And we will talk about that right after we take another quick break.
Rasha Pecoraro 17:10
There was at least one person who we know of who was fighting back against father Joseph Maskull. And that person is the popular young teacher, Sister Cathy Cesnik. Her students loved her and many of them confided in her about the abuse of Maskull and his colleagues. And she tried to stop it by doing things like making excuses for girls when he was calling them to his office, you know, like saying things oh, they can't get there. They couldn't get away. Sorry about that. In May of 1969, Sister Cathy had approached young Jean Waner and just asked her straight out whether the priests had been hurting her. And Jean admitted that yes, they had and apparently Cathy promised her that something would be done about it and basically tells her to go off and just try to enjoy her summer because she was going to take care of it.
Trevor Young 18:03
And apparently, this is where things started to really take a dark turn. So as we know, Cathy Cesnik disappeared in November of 1969, and then was found dead the following January. But after she went missing, Jean Waner says that Father Maskull took her, Jean, for a car ride, which I guess was a common thing that the priests would just take these young girls for trips, places, right? I guess at the time families really trusted these priests like Joseph Maskull....
Rasha Pecoraro 18:32
Trevor Young 18:32
To do this. But when Gene and father mask will get out of the car after they've driven somewhere, he walks her over to a field where she says that she saw Sister Cathy's body there in the field. Some pretty graphic details here for anybody who's sensitive to that. If you are I recommend you skip ahead a few seconds. So according to the Huffington Post, "Cesnik was still clad in her aqua colored coat and maggots were crawling on her face. Waner tried to brush them off with her bare hands. helped me get these off of her. She cried, turning to Maskull in a panic. Instead, she says the priest leaned down behind her and whispered in her ear. You see what happens when you say bad things about people?"
Yvette Gentile 19:14
Shit, it makes my skin crawl, my blood boil to think that, you know, a priest who you look up to supposedly trust and this is going on. You can't make this up. This is like a movie. Right? But this is actually happening.
Trevor Young 19:38
Yeah, I mean, this is something you would expect to see like in The Godfather.
Yvette Gentile 19:41
Trevor Young 19:41
Right? Like it's just absolutely insane like to diabolical to, you know, even be real. But when Jean Waner finally builds up the courage to tell the story in 1994. She describes details about Cathy Cesnik's body that were only known to investigators at the time, like the blue coat.
Yvette Gentile 20:00
Rasha Pecoraro 20:01
And then there's Teresa Lancaster, the other woman who filed the 1994 Suit along with Jean Waner. And it's important to note here that both of these women were actually anonymous at the time of the filing. And Teresa, at the time, she also experienced retaliation for confiding in sister Cathy, she claims that Maskull drove her out to a wooded area where there were lots of police milling around. And that two police officers raped her in the backseat, while Maskull stood outside of the police car, talking and laughing with the other cops.
Yvette Gentile 20:42
I mean, this is just pure evil on every level possible.
Trevor Young 20:48
So I think it's interesting here to realize that this is now becoming a much bigger issue, right? This is no longer just about abuse within the Catholic Church, obviously, that's a huge part of it. But now we're seeing law enforcement get involved.
Rasha Pecoraro 21:02
Trevor Young 21:03
In a very dark way. A very criminal way. Yeah. And so what we're seeing is this balloon out, this picture of abuse and cover up that involves an entire city, and all of the forces within a city like law enforcement.
Yvette Gentile 21:19
Yeah, I mean, this explains a lot, obviously, about why the police never solved this case, because so many of them were a part of it. You know, it's... it's just, it's really just corruption at every level. It's when you talk about above the law, this is that, and so much more.
Trevor Young 21:42
Right. It's different types of people, but they're all taking advantage of authority and power... In very evil ways. Right?
Yvette Gentile 21:48
Rasha Pecoraro 21:51
So this actually reminds me of the corruption that was happening in LAPD when our great grandfather, George Hodel, was accused of killing Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia. Because he had so much so much dirt on the police officers of the LAPD, we all believe that's one of the reasons that he was never convicted, you know, like corruption to the nth level. And that's, it feels just like that right now.
Trevor Young 22:21
Yeah, this can take place in Baltimore, LA, you know, 1940s, 1960s, whenever. So moving forward, other victims also described maskel as bringing them to places where police officers would abused them. So this is just keeps going on. It turns out that Maskull's brother was a police lieutenant. And it seems he really had the entire police force in the area under his complete control. So they're like one family that has authority over this entire region.
Rasha Pecoraro 22:53
Feels very much like The Godfather. So gross.
Trevor Young 22:56
And so Yvette, as you said earlier, this is probably a huge part of the reason why, again, this case wasn't solved because the police are in on this. So other media reports on the story have pointed out that as late as 1994, there's still really no justice. The court dismisses all the claims against Maskull at that point, because it's passed the statute of limitations. So in Maryland, victims of sexual abuse have just three years from the time the abuse ends, or from when they discover it to file a civil suit, which is not a long time.
Rasha Pecoraro 23:30
Yvette Gentile 23:30
I mean, three years. That's, I mean, that's just ridiculous. That has to change.
Rasha Pecoraro 23:35
Yeah, especially for sexual abuse.
Yvette Gentile 23:37
So it's basically saying it's too late, because your memory may not be reliable enough. Meanwhile, all these other women are coming together and corroborating on the same type of abuse. Right? That has happened to, to Jean and to Teresa. Um, what is that?
Trevor Young 24:00
Yeah, so the idea there with statute of limitations is that after a certain number of years, your account as an eyewitness, it's just not as reliable, like you said, because of memory or whatever. But, you know, I think if you have enough detail, and you have, you know, enough of a pattern of abuse, and especially like this kind of abuse, like I don't think this is something that you forget, like, I don't think your memory is just going to fade about being raped by two police officers after three years. Like, that's something that is going to stay with these women for the rest of their lives.
Yvette Gentile 24:33
Exactly. Trevor, exactly. You don't forget about that these women fight every day, to probably just walk through life because that is a memory that is so deep embedded in their spirit.
Trevor Young 24:46
True. And you know, the law is frequently unjust, and this is why we have things like amendments to improve upon this right?
Rasha Pecoraro 24:54
Trevor Young 24:55
But it doesn't end there. A police detective talking anonymously to the LinkedIn Post said that he got a call in 1994 from a grave digger. The man said that Maskull had ordered him to bury a bunch of boxes in the graveyard. When police went and dug them up, one of those boxes contained a bunch of nude photos of underage girls. But then, when all the boxes were delivered to the evidence room, those containing the photos were inexplicably missing. Other retired detectives have also come forward in recent years, and confirmed that they were " pressured to back off the Catholic priests during their investigations."
Rasha Pecoraro 25:32
Yvette Gentile 25:33
It's obvious that this was a cover up, you know, at the highest level possible.
Trevor Young 25:39
Yeah, so this goes from being a conspiracy theory to a full blown conspiracy that can be proven and corroborated, and every detail of it tracked down.
Rasha Pecoraro 25:48
Trevor Young 25:49
Unfortunately, none of this really leads to a lot of consequences for Joseph Maskull. In 1994, he was removed from the ministry, but he fled to Ireland, where until his death in 2001, at age 62, he worked as a psychologist and unfortunately, supposedly continued his pattern of abuse while working there.
Yvette Gentile 26:11
So basically, nothing happened to him, there were no consequences. And I'm sure he continued to do it over and over and over again, because he got away with it. They let him... they let him get away with it.
Rasha Pecoraro 26:25
Right. That was his entire life. He knew nothing else. And he'd gotten away with it for so long. But it's not until 2016 that the Archdiocese of Baltimore releases a list of 71 clergyman that had been accused of sexual abuse, and then back that up with credible evidence. And Maskull is on that list. Of course, he is and I'm sure he was at the top of the list. Yeah, like conveniently It was after he died, of course. And victims of the listed clergy are offered money. They got financial settlements by the Archdiocese for that abuse. And some victims claimed that considering the sheer horrificness of these crimes, that money was not enough. They wanted to see legal changes, like you always tell us Trevor. And they wanted to see changes within the church, and they wanted to prevent anything like this from happening again, in the future.
Yvette Gentile 27:30
Yeah, I mean, Money can't buy what they've been through. I mean, it can't take that away. It's just, I can't even tell you guys like just spending seven hours of watching this documentary. And I had no voice and I was yelling, like, through my spirit of what these victims had gone through, and then to offer them, you know, it was something like 25 to $50,000 like...
Rasha Pecoraro 27:59
That's nothing compared to what they've been through.
Yvette Gentile 28:02
I do want to say this. You know, one good thing we always look for that silver lining that school, Keo, was torn down, it's no longer there. And you know, the fact that these women, some of these women were there, like when it came down was, you know, I don't want to say closure, because you know, they can never have closure on you know, something so evil that happened to them. But I think there was a part of them. That just the fact that this was no longer there helped in some way.
Rasha Pecoraro 28:40
That's so beautiful to hear that that school Keo was torn down, you know, we also have some additional momentum going in the right direction. In recent years, more and more people have joined the fight for justice in this case. So a school alumni group that began with one person asking questions on Facebook has exploded and sparked a brand new murder investigation into the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, it's officially an open case again. And this quest for justice has brought all of these women together and has helped so many of those abuse survivors find healing and find support. And that brings us to this week's Imua. This week's message of hope and healing goes out to Jean Waner, Theresa Lancaster and the 1000s of women and men like them who have come out about abuse they have suffered at the hands of religious clergy.
Yvette Gentile 29:49
It is for the founders of SNAP the grassroots Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest.
Rasha Pecoraro 29:56
Back in 1993 when SNAP held listening sessions for survivors to tell their stories. Not a single Catholic Bishop came out to hear them. But the group persevered and grew. It is making noise and sparking change.
Yvette Gentile 30:11
The stories of abuse are painful to hear, but more painful still is to have lived them, and to have your voice silenced when you try to speak your truth. Because so many have stepped forward and refused to be ignored people are now listening
Rasha Pecoraro 30:29
And calls for changes, such as the elimination of statutes of limitations for reporting abuse, are getting louder.
Yvette Gentile 30:38
To all the victims out there, those who have come forward, and those who have not. We see you, we wish you justice. We wish you healing and most importantly, we wish you peace, onward and upward. Imua
Rasha Pecoraro 30:56
Yvette Gentile 31:02
That's our show for today. If you are survivor of clergy abuse, the advocacy group SNAP has resources that you can turn to visit snapnetwork.org that's snapnetwork.org
Rasha Pecoraro 31:19
We'd love to hear what you thought about today's discussion. And if there's a case you'd like for us to cover, find us on social media or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and one favor, if you haven't done it already. Please leave us a review and a good rating if you like what we do. Your support is always cherished.
Yvette Gentile 31:41
Until next time.
Rasha Pecoraro 31:43
Trevor Young 31:55
Facing Evil is a production of iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV. The show is hosted by Rasha Pecoraro and Yvette Gentile. Matt Frederick and Alex Williams, are executive producers on behalf of iHeartRadio with producers Trevor Young and Jessie Funk. Donald Albright and Payne Lindsey are executive producers on behalf of TenderfootTV, alongside producer Tracy Kaplan. Our researcher is Claudia Dafrico. Original Music by Makeup and Vanity Set. Find us on social media or email us at email@example.com For more podcasts from iHeart Radio or TenderfootTV, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.