The Keepers: Does the State Need to Keep the Church Accountable?

The Keepers: Does the State Need to Keep the Church Accountable?

In the new Netflix documentary, The Keepers, one of the central questions for the viewing audience turns the traditional thinking about church and state on its head.

The story The Keepers tells is the mystery of the death of a Baltimore, Maryland nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik, in 1969. Her body was found exposed and hidden behind a trash pile two months after she was reported missing in the fall of 1969. Investigators vowed they had no leads and her death has remained unsolved after all these years.

The plot thickened in the 1990s. Students at Keough High School came forward with allegations of sexual abuse by a priest who worked there as a guidance counselor in the late 60s and early 70s. His name was Joseph Maskell.

This is the school where Sister Cathy had quit teaching the year before she was murdered.

Since the initial complaints made by the two women who came forward in the 1990s, many more women who attended Keough during that time have finally felt free to tell their own stories.

The Keepers tells a story of horrible abuse and alleged cover-ups by the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore and possible collusion by the Baltimore police department and/or some of its personnel.

If the information uncovered by several of the investigators in this film is true, many people who ought to be in jail are not. It seems very plausible that Joseph Maskell tricked and used high school girls as prostitutes for men in Baltimore with impunity and that the list of those who knew and condoned this behavior is long.

The theory is that when Sister Cathy found out about the abuse, she was killed so she could be kept silent.

The Keepers and Statute Of Limitations

Toward the end of this documentary, Delegate C.T. Wilson speaks about the need for Congress to pass a bill allowing abuse victims to sue their abusers later in life. This new bill will increase the age in the statute of limitations to 38.

Many abuse victims – including the ones documented in The Keepers don’t even consciously remember being abused until later in life. Often, by that point, criminal investigations aren’t possible. Sometimes the only way for a victim to receive justice is to file a lawsuit in hopes that it will alert the world to the danger the abuser poses.

Delegate Wilson also speaks to the need for the government to protect victims of church inactivity if the church itself won’t do the right thing. If Maskell had been delivered to the authorities in 1967 – as the documentary alleges the church knew about him at that time – his abuse of Keough women would have been prevented.

Instead, he was reassigned. This is a move by the church which is reminiscent of the Boston priests in the Spotlight scandal. Of course, the Baltimore scandal pre-dates the one in Boston, making one wonder how many archdioceses have been secretly affected by abusive priests. What else doesn’t the public know about the inner workings of the Catholic Church?


What do you think? Should the government take a more active role in policing the workings of the Catholic Church?