I love true crime and I love documentaries, so Netflix’s The Keepers was something of a treat to watch last weekend. But to lump the series into the true crime documentary genre would be myopic since it explores so much more beyond the case of Sister Cathy Cesnik. The Keepers, in fact, uncovers a much more institutionally ingrained issue – the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church. In this case, it exposes the sexual abuse of young women by Father Joseph Maskell and other priests at Archbishop Keough High School, a Catholic secondary school in Baltimore.
It takes the same investigative tone as the film Spotlight, following closely the efforts of two retired Keough alumni, Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins, who try to find justice for Sister Cathy Cesnik. Schaub and Hoskins eventually figure out that the case was so much more than the murders of Cathy Cesnik and Joyce Malecki. Ryan White, the executive producer, maintains an investigative tone throughout the series but also introduces ambiguity about the different testimonies we hear. White invests more energy and production into creating full, nuanced stories of Cathy Cesnik’s and Joyce Malecki’s lives through family and student interviews.
Moreover, he focuses on creating empathy with the sexual abuse survivors and making sure that their stories are heard and validated, which has not been the case when they talk to friends or government officials. Survivor Jean Wehner, who later in her life sued the Church and Joseph Maskell for sexual abuse as Jane Doe, is one of the main subjects in the series’ narrative. There are a lot of themes to unpack and White unpacks them meticulously – power and abuse, the unjust degradation of a victim’s credibility, and bureaucratic incompetence and corruption, to name a few.
Simultaneously chilling and tragic, The Keepers reveals that there are monsters who live amongst us and that a singular horrific event may be the crack in the ice that exposes the deeply ingrained systems of power that feed these monsters.