The human brain is an amazing thing — it’s able to take childhood or past traumas and bury them way down deep inside your memories so that they don’t come up, or maybe they come up when you’re more ready to tackle them. Such is the case with Jean Wehner in The Keepers, who recently recovered repressed memories of alleged abuse at the hands of an authority figure at her former high school. Originally known as Jane Doe, Jean Wehner is breaking her silence on The Keepers, and her bravery and resilience in the face of turmoil is amazing.
Wehner claims that she was just 14 years old in the late 1960s, she began to suffer sexual and mental abuse from Father Joseph Maskell, the then-head counselor and chaplain at Archbishop Keough, a parochial school in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Wehner says the abuse started when, during confession, Wehner admitted that an uncle had allegedly sexually abused her. After her confession, Father Maskell, per Wehner's story, began to touch her inappropriately, speak to her in an inappropriately sexual manner, and rape her, both orally and vaginally. Maskell also brought in other men and allegedly forced Wehner to allow them to rape her. Wehner says Maskell called her a "whore," and told her that her family would never love her if they found out all of the “whoring around” she did. Wehner says these attacks continued until she graduated from Keough.
One ally Wehner had was Sister Cathy Cesnik, a young, popular teacher at the school. Cesnik knew about the claims of abuse and was reportedly about to go to the Archdiocese when she was abducted and murdered. A few days after Cesnik’s disappearance, Maskell allegedly brought Wehner to Cesnik’s body, telling Wehner that this was what happens “when you say bad things about people.”
After high school, Wehner says she repressed these memories. She told no one — not her ten siblings or her husband, Michael. It wasn’t until 1994 that memories came flooding back to Wehner, triggered by seeing a picture of Maskell in a yearbook. Known then as Jane Doe and bolstered by the support of her family, Wehner went before the Archdiocese of Baltimore and outlined the abuses and her story about Maskell showing her Cesnik’s body. With regard to the allegations against Father Maskell, the Archdiocese of Baltimore released the following statement to Bustle:
“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.”
The Baltimore County Police Department also issued a statement:
"We have not been afforded the opportunity to preview the series and therefore cannot comment on it. We have been aware for some time of vague allegations of wrongdoing by police in connection with the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik. In the nearly 50 years since this murder occurred, no one has come forward to BCoPD to initiate an investigation of wrongdoing by police officers, including a woman who came forward through her attorney last week to allege abuse by a now-deceased BCoPD officer. Our detectives contacted her to begin an investigation, and she refused to be interviewed. This has been one of our most active cold cases for many years; our current team of detectives continues to work diligently to solve this case."
Wehner’s testimony about her abuse is truly harrowing to watch. There are moments when she breaks down after reading her own words, when it's impossible not to break down as a viewer. But what strikes me the most about Wehner is how strong she is, despite crying through these horrific things.
When she first testified about her experiences, the Archdiocese allegedly told her that she needed more people to corroborate her testimony. For their part the Archdiocese Of Baltimore's website states that they did take action after Wehner's claims:
Upon receipt of the initial allegation in 1992, the adult survivor and her attorney were encouraged to report the matter to civil authorities and the survivor was offered counseling assistance. Maskell was removed from ministry and referred for evaluation and treatment. He denied the allegation, underwent months of evaluation and treatment, and was returned to ministry in 1993 after the Archdiocese was unable to corroborate the allegation of sexual abuse through its own investigation and conversations with attorneys representing the individual who initially came forward. The Church reported the allegation to civil authorities in 1993 (when the Attorney General clarified Maryland law as requiring reporting of child abuse even when the alleged victim was an adult and did not want the allegation to be reported).
But at the risk of overusing a phrase that we’ve been using a lot lately, nevertheless, she persisted. Wehner found it in herself and overcame years of abuse to bring her story forward. You know that saying “not all heroes wear capes”? Neither does Wehner.