The seven-part Netflix documentary series THE KEEPERS is a scathing indictment of the Baltimore Maryland Archdiocese and its coverup of abuse by priests in collusion with other locals, leading to the murder of a 27-year-old nun, Cathy Cesnik, a popular English, and Drama teacher at Archbishop Keough High School in 1969. Forty-seven years later, the murder still haunts some of her students, particularly Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins - two women whose fierce devotion to their former teacher transforms them into "senior Nancy Drews" who have spent the intervening time trying to make sense of what happened, long after the brutal extermination of Cesnik became an official “cold case”. Their loyalty and unflinching determination to discover the “truth” was and is an on-the-job learning curve; their use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other investigative methods, including old-fashioned footwork and interviews, begins to unearth an impenetrable darkness that enshrouds the case with widening implications. Buried execrable secrets eventually thrust themselves into the light making us gasp at the physical and mental sufferings of these young people - an agony that time never can expunge along with confusion and guilt - accessory weights that profoundly settle over our spirit.
We discover early on that the police and assisting governmental officials ignored salient facts during their investigation - reports are missing, records are transferred and now gone - all indications of the dominant influence of the Catholic Church in Baltimore on many of the institutions of power. Our “detectives” uncover a pattern of horrific child abuse by Cesnik’s colleague, Priest Joseph Maskell who would target the most vulnerable students; young girls who had a history of family trauma, and call them into his office for “counseling.” The beauty of innocence is also its bane; to navigate through corruption requires an armor that the tender skin of youth has not yet developed - those who scald that fragile shield are craven reprobates.
Director Ryan White intersperses the past and present - through newspaper headlines, interviews with people whose lives touched on Sister Cathy and those who were victimized in Archbishop Keough High School, and eventually feel compelled to speak up - still believing that their oppressor, the Catholic Church would be their savior - not their foe in the daunting fight for truth and justice. We witness the long-arm of the Archdiocese which utilizes its power to quash dissent, quietly protecting the offending clergy by transferring them from school to school compounding the abuse. A hushed pall of silence - a cloud large enough to hover over medical personal, the police, and governmental agencies sanctioned a fog of evil to multiply and continue to destroy lives.
THE KEEPERS speaks with great sensitivity and directness to the wounds of molestation that never heal, and to the courage of those who are the true heroes - exposing their personal agonizing history to the vicious cross-examination of those in authority - in order to protect future generations from the enduring effect that the despoilment and loss of childhood naiveté has on an individual. We also observe a crime story and the pursuit of “truth” - over decades - an inquiry that becomes an avocation - a razor sharp spotlight on what might seem like a minutia of evidence that with time and patience piles up into a penetrating narrative, with the potential to bring down an Empire. These are “the keepers.”