Netflix's The Keepers examines a case five decades in the making, beginning with the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik in 1969 then broadening to examine the alleged sexual abuse that may have led to her death. At the center of the docuseries is Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain of Baltimore's Archbishop Keough — an all-girls Catholic high school where Cesnik worked.
Though Maskell died at 62 in 2001 from the effects of a major stroke, his legacy looms large over The Keepers. Subjects allege throughout the show that Maskell repeatedly sexually assaulted students at Archbishop Keough, as well as facilitated abuse from others. The series also puts forth the claim that when Cesnik found out about the abuse, she was killed in a cover-up. Maskell denied the accusations until his death and was never charged in connection with Cesnik's case. The Archdiocese of Baltimore provided the following statement to Bustle in response to the allegations:
Since the 1990s, when the Archdiocese of Baltimore first learned of an allegation of child sexual abuse against Maskell, and on numerous occasions since, the Archdiocese has publicly acknowledged and apologized for the horrific abuse committed by him. The Archdiocese reported the allegations to civil authorities in the 1990s and cooperated fully in any investigation, removed Father Maskell’s faculties to function as a priest, apologized to victims and offered them counseling assistance, sought additional victims, and provided direct financial assistance to 16 individuals abused by Maskell.
Though it was unaware of the abuse at the time it occurred approximately 50 years ago, the Archdiocese deeply regrets the damage that was caused to those who were so badly harmed and has worked diligently since becoming aware of their abuse to bring some measure of healing to them. The Archdiocese is wholly committed to protecting children, holding abusers accountable — clergy and laity alike, and promoting healing for victims. These are hallmarks of the Archdiocese’s child protection efforts, which we strive to constantly strengthen. There is no room in the Archdiocese for anyone who would harm a child and every effort must be made to ensure what happened before never happens again. It is our hope that The Keepers advances this pursuit, just as we hope the series helps those who have kept alive the memory of Sr. Cathy and our collective hope that justice will be won for her.
As reported by the Huffington Post, Cesnik went missing in 1969. Jean Wehner, then a 16-year-old junior at Keough, claimed that Maskell took her to see Cesnik's body before it was discovered by hunters in January 1970. Wehner also alleged that when she stooped down to sweep maggots from Cesnik's face, Maskell said "You see what happens when you say bad things about people?" The allegation was initially dismissed because maggots are not usually present in cold November temperatures, but an autopsy later showed there were, in fact, maggots in Cesnik's throat. According to the Archdiocese of Baltimore's website, "When suspicions arose regarding Maskell in 1994, he was interviewed by the police and also by The Baltimore Sun about the allegations of sexual abuse and also about the murder of Sr. Cathy." He was never charged in connection with any of these allegations and a recent sample taken posthumously of his DNA did not match crime scene evidence, according to The Baltimore Sun.
In 1994, Wehner and Teresa Lancaster, another former student, filed a civil lawsuit against Maskell. Wehner relied heavily on repressed memories she'd only recently uncovered, but that concept was met with scrutiny at the time. Ultimately, the judge ruled that recovered memories could not restart Maryland's three-year statute of limitations, and in 1995, the case was thrown out.