TV Corner: The Keepers

[Content Note: Violence; sexual assault; death; Christian supremacy.]

This weekend, I watched The Keepers, a 7-episode documentary series on Netflix about the 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik and the subsequent cover-up. Her murder remains unsolved. The series introduces us to the potential suspects and one very important motive: Sister Cathy had discovered that Father Joseph A. Maskell, the counselor at the Catholic girls' school at which she was a teacher was sexually abusing students and allowing other men to sexually assault them in his office.

That is the most frank way I can describe what was happening, but the extent of the abuse was vast and horrific. It is difficult to watch the survivors recount their abuse. It is also important, and, for me personally, validating and ultimately an extremely positive experience to spend time with the women, former students of Sister Cathy's, who are survivors and investigators.

image of Jean Wehner, an older white woman, from The Keepers
Jean Wehner, a former student of Sister Cathy's and survivor of abuse
who has fought for decades for accountability from the Catholic Church.

Unlike the other notable true crime docuseries and podcasts of late, this is a victim-centered crime series, which makes it very different and very special. Here, we get the perspective of crime survivors and families of the dead—including the family of Joyce Malecki, a young woman who was killed just days after Cesnik in the same neighborhood, and was a parishioner of the aforementioned priest. Here, there are no narratives about hero cops, but a stark representation of how survivors are so often failed in such extraordinary ways.

Watching The Keepers, I was (and remain) awed by the tenacious courage of these survivors, even as I am angry that they have been obliged to be courageous, and of the woman who was likely killed for being their advocate.

I also thought, over and over, of all the times I've written about rape culture and gotten pushback that's some variation of, "No one condones rape." The hell they don't. And this documentary series is one of the best exposures of the terrifying vastness of institutional rape culture.

For all of us who have been gaslighted, ignored, disbelieved, turned away by the institutions supposed to protect us, The Keepers is so personal, and so important.

It reminds us that none of us is alone. And that is not justice. But it is real.

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