In case you didn’t hear, Netflix has a new documentary series called The Keepers that investigates the murder of Sr. Cathy Cesnik in 1969 in Baltimore, MD and ends up uncovering stories of abuse at the hands of a priest, Fr. A . Joseph Maskell.
This is a hard series to watch, filled with pain, lies, deceit, and malice; it is a heavy and sorrowful drama. One thing The Keepers is not, though, is anti-Catholic. It is anti-sexual abuse, it is anti-abuse of power, it is anti-institutional cover-ups, but it is not anti-Catholic. It is clear that this series is after agents of the Church who abused their authority and positions of power and also their web of allies—within the Church, police, and government—who aided in these heinous acts, either through participation in the sexual abuse or by helping to cover it up in some way. Through all of this, The Keepers never calls into question the Catholic Church herself, although it comes down heavily on the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Important to understand when watching The Keepers is that two stories, though intertwined, are really being told: the story of Sr. Cathy Cesnik and her murder and the story of the women who were abused by Fr. A. Joseph Maskell. Two things are, thus, made clear in the documentary: Sr. Cathy was a virtuous woman who was at a crossroads in her life and she was trying to do the right things despite personal fear, and that Fr. Maskell was a sick, deceitful individual who never received proper discipline or help. While some of the other details or connections remain murky, these two facts stand clear as day.
What makes this an important series to watch is that it brings to light not just abuses and cover-ups that have taken place, but it also forces us to question how we approach justice and survivors of abuse.
The justice system was designed to lay bare the truth without regard for the dignity of the person and the Catholic Church was meant to be an agent of healing, supremely concerned with the dignity of the human person. This documentary showcases how both have failed at times. Since the release of The Keepers, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has released an official statement on the subjects in question which should be taken at face value. Also since the series’ release, CT Wilson has successfully brought a bill in Maryland to extend the statute of limitations on cases of sexual abuse of minors to vote and it passed. Watch his short video for the Archdiocese here.
Finally, The Keepers was advertised as a murder mystery, but instead ends up being about survivors of sexual abuse, leaving the murder still largely a mystery. This would be fine if the show had been advertised as such, but it wasn’t, and the connections it tries to draw between the abuse and the murder are, unfortunately, tenuous at best.
Hopefully, one day the murder of Sr. Cathy Cesnik will be solved and then all of these questions will have answers, but today that isn’t so. While The Keepers does a great justice to survivors of abuse by giving them a voice and treating them with dignity, it fails to deliver on its premise of being a murder mystery story.
Here are some other helpful links:
- Baltimore County Police site for Sr. Cathy’s case, complete with timeline and tip hotline
- Maryland state child abuse hotlines, listed by county
- Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Child and Youth Protection page, including hotline and procedures
- Justice for Cathy Cesnik and Joyce Malecki Facebook group
- The Keepers Official Group- Justice for Catherine Cesnik and Joyce Malecki Facebook group
- The Cause for Beatification and Sainthood of Sister Cathy Cesnik Facebook group