I just finished watching the Netflix documentary series – The Keepers. It its official advertising, the docuseries is described as:
This docuseries examines the decades-old murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik and its suspected link to a priest accused of abuse.
OMG! This does not even begin to express what is covered in this series. I will be the first to admit that this has been perhaps the most difficult series for me to watch and yet I felt watching it was critically important. In fact, I would suggest that it is critically important for everyone to see. I will, however, preface this recommendation with a HUGE TRIGGER WARNING. The docuseries catalogues IN DETAIL the sexual abuse inflicted on (likely) hundreds of teens by Fr. Joseph Maskell of the Baltimore, Maryland Archdiocese. In addition, the docuseries describes the far-reaching efforts by the Church, law enforcement, the courts and even the FBI to cover up the abuse and curtail the investigations of the murders of two local women, Sr. Cathy Cesnik and Joyce Malecki. The Keepers provides provocative evidence suggesting both women were likely killed by Fr. Maskell (or he ordered their murders). To say the series is chilling would be an understatement!!!
Like the movie Spotlight, this is a series that stayed with me. I felt it to the depth of my being. Being raised Catholic and having worked in the Church for a number of years (finding my calling within the Catholic Church in fact), this series hit home. On one hand, the series did a beautiful job of portraying the potential good in the Catholic Church. It demonstrated the beauty that comes out of the Church in people like Sr. Cathy and other women and men who found the love of the Divine in the Church and who sought to live out that love in service to the world. On the other hand, the series demonstrated the insidious evil that dwells in the shadows of the Catholic Church, the depth of that evil and its far-reaching effects. In Baltimore, it was not only the Catholic Church that was involved in the abuse and its cover-up – this culture of abuse and the efforts to keep it secret involved law enforcement, the courts, and even the FBI. Some suggest that members of the local law enforcement may even have participated in the abuse.
What troubled me the most in this documentary were two things:
- The archdiocese’s deception (which continues today!) and the efforts they put forth to curtail any investigation, including arguing AGAINST raising the statute of limitations for abuse victims. If nothing else, cue up episode 7 for the ludicrous arguments put forth by the diocese against increasing the statute of limitations for abuse victims!
- The abuse itself. This troubled me because of the way in which the abuse was described. The details of the abuse were so similar to what I have heard from others, and so specific to certain “sacramental” acts and so depraved that I have to wonder if these priests are being trained to do these things. You cannot make this stuff up! It is not normal sexual behavior by any stretch of the imagination. When I heard of a single priest performing this kind of abuse I thought, “Well that’s weird, sick, twisted and super disgusting.” But to hear of it AGAIN with another priest I have to ask the more difficult question: “Why is this more than just an isolated incident and from whom are these priests learning this kind of deviant behavior? It is an abuse of power and distortion of the sacraments in a way that is beyond imagination. It is beyond sick and the pure definition of evil! As one who honored and held the sacraments as sacred, I am horrified – not just by the abuse, but by the Church’s ongoing efforts to deny, ignore, push under the rug, that this is taking place in the Catholic Church and then doing nothing to: 1) hold priests accountable 2) make appropriate restitution to victims (I’m sorry, but a $25,000 pay-off does NOTHING to heal the abuse and its ongoing effects on a victim’s life!!!!!), 3) change the system that made any of this possible in the first place!
This, in fact, is the final piece that I came away with after watching The Keepers. It is too late for the Catholic Church. There is no possible way the institution of the Catholic Church can fix this. The disease is too far reaching. The cancer is too deep. The tentacles of the tumor are too tangled and intertwined. You cannot restore or rebuild a structure that is this far gone. The only answer is to tear it down, creating space for something new. For me, watching The Keepers put the final nail in the coffin of any dreams or hopes I might have had of the Church reforming itself. It really is too late.
How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.
The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.
All her people groan
as they search for bread;
they trade their treasures for food
to revive their strength.
Look, O Lord, and see
how worthless I have become.
For these things I weep;
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
for the enemy has prevailed.
From the Book of Lamentations