The Keepers: not a ‘who-done-it’, but a ‘why was it allowed?’
LOS ANGELES, May 22, 2017 – Following in the footsteps of “Making a Murderer,” Netflix has released “The Keepers,” a true crime documentary about the November 1969 murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a 26-year-old nun and English teacher at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland.
“The Keepers” seven episodes tell the story of the 50-year old unsolved murder case, alongside the story of sexual abuse inside the Roman Catholic Church and the alleged cover-ups of that abuse by the Baltimore and Maryland criminal justice systems.
Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, two former students of Cesnik, narrate the story that speaks of the systematic abuse and the cover-ups, by the church, the police and the justice system that led to the murder of Sister Catherine.
Early on in the “The Keepers,” we are introduced to “Jane Doe,” a former student eventually identified as Ms. Hargadon Wehner, who has been hiding from the story for more than 50 years. Wehner alleges Father Joseph learned through Confession that her uncle had sexually abused her.
Whener claims that Joseph told her her sins wouldn’t be cleansed without his help, which “included repeated sexual acts, including oral sex where his semen was referred to as the Holy Spirit.”
The Cesnik story is a true crime whodunit. But it is not about the murder as much as it is concerned with what happened leading up to the murder.
Hoskins and Schaub add light humor to a dark story as they ask why Cesnik was killed, not being overly concerned over who killed the popular nun and teacher. It’s almost as if they have always had a pretty good idea of who the killer was.
In the 1990s, dozens of anonymous victims visited the Maryland state’s attorney’s office in support of 1994 lawsuit brought forth by two former students. The suit was thrown out due to the state’s statute of limitations. However, multiple people connected with the school that spoke to White claim that Archbishop Keough was a hub of systemic sexual abuse and that the man at the center of it all was Father Joseph Maskell, the school’s chaplain. In addition to as chaplain of Keough, Maskell was also Chaplain for the Baltimore County police, the Maryland State Police and the Maryland National Guard.
The archdiocese of Baltimore has been paying out settlements to Maskell’s victims since 2011. He died in Ireland in 2001.
Interviewing former students, the documentary outlines a system of sexual abuse that Cesnik uncovered at Archbishop Keough. They spoke with the people who were part of her life, as well as with the authorities who seem to have dropped the ball during the investigation of her death.
Filmmaker Ryan White works toward the conclusion that Cesnik was killed because she found discovered a pattern of sexual abuse that victimized girls who attended Archbishop Keough, while learning that Maskell, the alleged abuser of these girls, was complicit in the sexual abuse. The documentary also implicates him in the murder of Cesnik.
Cesnik’s sensational murder gripped Baltimore as well as its Catholic populace. But the case was consigned to the cold case file in 1977. Since then, many have come to question the police’s thoroughness in their investigation of the crime.
“The Keepers” is not a true whodunit murder mystery, given that it’s easy to conclude that Maskell, if not directly involved, was complicit in the popular nun’s murder.
White, however, is more interested in showing how Maskell’s victimes were abused and ignored until Sister Cesnik connected the dots between her students and the predatory priest.
Throughout the seven episodes of “The Keepers,” new information is revealed through true-crime storytelling that includes black-and-white reenactments and b-roll footage of Baltimore.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore did release the following statement regarding the allegations against Father Maskell at Archibishop Keough High (which has since been re-named Seton Keough):