At first glance, The Keepers seems like any other documentary series. We deemed it the Making A Murderer of 2017. But oh my god, it is so much more than that. This thrilling, disturbing, and twisted story of one woman's murder goes way beyond a 'whodunnit' — it taps into a long-dormant scandal of rampant sexual abuse by the clergy, the long-term affects of suppressed memory, the skewed hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and the cruelties of being a woman in a patriarchal society. The seven, hour-long episodes provide a slow, but intense burn, in explaining the events leading to, and following, the brutal murder of young, smart, and beloved nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik.
Sister Cathy was killed in November 1969, and her body was found two months later, in early 1970. Ever since the 26-year-old nun and school teacher went missing from her apartment in Baltimore, Maryland, the details of what happened to her that night remained a mystery. But despite the show's tagline, which ominously reads"Who Killed Sister Cathy?", what happened that deadly night is not what The Keepers is actually about. It's mostly about the shocking abuse of Father Joseph Maskell, the Chaplin at the esteemed Baltimore-area school Archbishop Keough High School, where Sister Cathy taught, and the nun's quest to expose it.
The first episode of the series, which premieres on the streaming service May 19, proposes the following theory: Sister Cathy was killed because she knew incriminating evidence about the abuses happening within the school at which she taught. And, much like the story told in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight, the major catch in all this is that the church protects even its most evil of characters to preserve the overall integrity of the establishment. This entire scandal and murder in Maryland pre-dates the real events that led to The Boston Globe's expose on the church in 2001 by nearly forty years. Essentially, the answer to "Who killed Sister Cathy?" became moot and swept under the rug. This documentary explores each and every approach to identifying Sister Cathy's killer (which at one point leads to the viewers being introduced to five different suspects) and in doing so exposes the dark underbelly of this deeply Catholic community. The show also goes deep into a lawsuit against Maskell and the Church brought on by two unidentified women (Jane Doe and Jane Roe) who do reveal their real identity in the documentary. Not only that, but the filmmaker is also able to find and talk to people (and suspects) who haven't been questioned about the crime since 1970 and get them to talk; he depth of the investigation is incredible.
Warning: It's incredibly hard to hear and see, especially because the women and men that were allegedly abused by Maskell (who died in 2001) and his friends are now all in their late 60s and 70s. Nothing is as upsetting as hearing a 60-something-year-old woman explaining the details of her vicious sexual assault. To hear the graphic and completely reprehensible details of the alleged abuse Jane Doe and Jane Roe (two former students at Keough) endured, made my skin crawl. Their tales are nightmare-inducing (I literally lost sleep over them) and, as they say in their respective episodes, have been deeply repressed throughout the years due to the trauma they say they experienced. Maskell died before any charges could be brought (although his grave was recently exhumed for investigation, but this does not mean that there aren't still many, many clues and loose ends to tie on the road to discovering the truth of what happened to Sister Cathy.
It's a complicated journey, one that evolves greatly from the initial group of individuals we meet in the first few episodes to include a large number of senior citizens who are revisiting their past in order to help connect clues. I can't remember another series that so intricately merges various people involved in the case to see complete a puzzle with dozens of missing pieces. Where Making A Murderer focused on one man who was accused of a crime in a way that appeared biased and unfair, The Keepers focuses on an entire community and the lasting wounds sustained from a group of influential men who used their power and dominance to allegedly abuse dozens of children and teenagers, and potentially even killing a woman to hide their secret.
The subject matter is real, raw, and emotionally triggering. By the final episode (I've been avoiding spoilers for you guys, but you can always Google the current state of the investigation) I was left with a growing sense of dread, so unsettled was I at the thought of there never being justice for Sister Cathy. I wouldn't recommend this as a binge-watch, but it is definitely a must-watch. Justice for Sister Cathy may be nearly 50 years overdue, but it is closer than ever.
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