The Keepers is a true-crime documentary that goes far beyond the normal composition of most films within its genre. A murdered nun, sexual abuse, and decades of deceit are the central topics of the Netflix miniseries that is far from a traditional whodunnit. The Keepers offers a sobering look at the corrupt cultures within long-established institutions that has gone on for generations.
The seven-part series begins with an examination of the murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, S.S.N.D. A cold case from 1969, Sr. Cesnik was a 26-year-old nun who was teaching English at Western High School in Baltimore, MD. As The Keepers progresses, allegations are made that present a terrible culture of abuse at her previous school, Archbishop Keough. Her death becomes associated with the sexual assault ring at the school that was led by priests A. Joseph Maskell and Neil Magnus. The coverup of the abuse begins with the Catholic Church’s practice of shuffling delinquent priests from assignment to assignment, but ultimately extends to police officers and government officials.
As the scope of the complicity grows, any frustration, anger, and disappointment felt by the audience is reflected by the people interviewed by the documentarians.
The Keepers primarily focuses on two pairs of women who demonstrate considerable strength and grit. The first set of women are both alumnae of Archbishop Keough who have devoted considerable time to investigating Cesnik’s death. The second pair are two victims of the abuse of Maskell and Magnus. The Keepers also interviews a male victim from a parish that Maskell had been previously assigned to. It is through the eyes of these five people that the documentary depicts their personal horrors and exasperation as they try to find answers.
The Keepers is tough to watch, but offers viewpoints that are important to hear. Watching the victims of abuse describe their trials is not easy, but necessary to understand their pain.
|2013 Baltimore Sun article detailing the Cesnik murder
While documenting the cruelty of Maskell’s actions is vital, The Keepers reaches for the greater truths involving the establishments who have enabled abuse. In searching for these truths the miniseries becomes relevant to multiple audiences. For Roman Catholics, The Keepers offers a visceral look at issues within the Church itself. By looking beyond the Catholic Church, the documentary scrutinizes police departments, politicians, and the F.B.I.
The Keepers brings the crimes of the past into the present by chronicling multiple instances of inaction from civil authorities. The documentary reveals the refusal of key figures within the General Assembly of Maryland to extend greater opportunities for abuse victims to come forward and a confounding weakness from the former state’s attorney to act with character. Towards the end of the miniseries, the ongoing efforts of the two alumnae are also shown as they struggle to obtain F.B.I files.
Unlike the 2015 Netflix documentary series Making A Murder, The Keepers offers a more airtight examination of evidence. Both documentaries offer a look at systematic corruption, but The Keepers is bolstered by a thorough presentation from its producers and the strong statements made by the subjects that are interviewed. Despite dealing with an old case and some suppressed evidence, the series presents its work in a diligent and methodical manor. At one point, even a Baltimore police detective appears impressed with the filmmakers’ work.
The Keepers is a must-watch series to achieve an understanding of both the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and the greater role of the community in these cases. Even though the murder of Catherine Cesnik took place 48 years ago, the events surrounding her death continue remain to relevant today.