Whispers on the crack that will shatter that wall

21 May

I just finished binge-watching The Keepers on Netflix. It only has seven episodes, but it made for a slow, uncomfortable torturous viewing. (Spoilers hereafter.) The story starts with the disappearance and murder of a nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik in 1969. A captivating whodunnit all of a sudden morphs into something more sinister in the next episodes. And from here on out it becomes very painful to watch. Sister Cathy’s murder is still unsolved to this day, but it becomes apparent that it is only one piece of a puzzle, one that leads to a dark web of abuse within and protected by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, apparently aided and abetted by at least the Baltimore Police and the State Attorney’s Office (that interview with Sharon May was one of several instances where one is tempted to punch the screen). The abuse was perpetrated by the counselor of the all-girls Catholic school Keough, Father Joseph Maskell. The details provided in the interviews were spare, but enough to make one’s hairs stand on end: Father Maskell kept an eye out for troubled girls, especially those who experienced sexual abuse previously, so that he could snare them. And he didn’t work alone. Jean Wehner, who later on tried to sue, said that she was marked by a different priest, Father Magnus, when she confessed about being abused by her uncle when she was younger. After getting the attention of Maskell, she experienced horrific and unspeakable violence in the hands of these priests and other men. Sister Cathy must have noticed that something was happening, and she assured Jean that she would do something about it and that things would be alright. It didn’t, because Sister Cathy ended up dead. And in Jean’s recovered memories, decades later, she recalled that Maskell himself took her to Sister Cathy’s body in the woods to warn her about speaking out against him.

Despite the many numbers of victims that reached out after Jean and another victim, Teresa Lancaster, decided to sue in the early 90s, and other evidence such as the documents that Maskell asked to be buried and was later recovered by police, and the incessant coverage of local media, Maskell was never brought to court. There apparently was no paper trail, evidence were destroyed or lost, and the words of 35 to 100 women were not enough to move it forward. For the viewer, this is where the intense feeling of helplessness and anger just builds up. And it wasn’t even the worst of it: it turned out that Maskell had an earlier victim: an eight grade boy whose mother went to the office of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and reported the abuse in 1967. The Archdiocese knew about Maskell, and instead of punishing him or turning him over to the police, transferred him to Keough where he went on to abuse dozens of young girls for years. Had they taken action, these young women would not have had their lives and futures taken away from them. And perhaps Sister Cathy would not have died.

The most disturbing thing about this entire series is not just the role of the Church in the cover up and the lies to make Jean think that she was the only victim and no one can corroborate her story: it is also the possibility that the Church colluded with the authorities to keep things hush-hush. I think Maskell was ultimately running a pedophile ring, and the reason for the apparent incompetent investigations and the lack of legal action against him was because he had too many friends in high places. People who have a lot to lose if the atrocities were brought to light.

I think The Keepers will cause much more of an outrage than Making a Murderer did. Ultimately there were many lives which were destroyed, real people died, and the injustice continues on (interestingly, the Church had apparently made a way to stop a bill regarding the extension of the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases to be passed). I read somewhere that the city of Baltimore is actually bracing itself from the public reaction from this series. It only got released this week, so the uproar will only get louder in the coming days and weeks.

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