Shari Karney’s thoughts on the Netflix documentary web series – The Keepers

The current Netflix documentary, The Keepers, is a seven-episode series released in May of 2017. The series explores the unsolved murder of the nun Sister Cathy Cesnik who taught at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School. In this documentary, her former students explore the possibility that there may have been a  cover-up by authorities and the Catholic church after Cesnik suspected that a priest at the school, Father Joseph Maskell had been sexually abusing students. The Archdiocese of Baltimore has responded to the series by adding a FAQ page to its website, in which it stated allegations that the archdiocese knew of Maskell’s sexual abuse prior to 1992 were false speculation.

What is Connection Between Police and Church?

Simply put, it is the manipulation of power. These priests made alliances that shielded them should the abuse claims ever surface. The police in this situation didn’t prosecute or take it very seriously. The priest was “one of them” and served as “the chaplain for the local police department”. Smart and conniving abusive priests intentionally form strong bonds with the local police departments. In widespread institutional cover ups the church closes ranks with police, state prosecutors, county clerks and government record keepers all tied in with the power of the Catholic Church. Local authorities are unwilling to challenge the Catholic Church and prosecute these cases.

Why didn’t the victims tell anyone?

Throughout history many parents and the church have turned their backs on survivors. Mass culture still has trouble looking at this horror in the face. We’ve become trained as women to stay quiet, that people may not believe us or we “must have been mistaken”. Many people seem to care more about animal rights than children’s rights. It is a topic most want to avoid and not talk about. Therefore, so many women are “silenced”. Victim blaming is quite common and leads to self-hatred. It can be embarrassing for the victim to talk about and many teens don’t want to be “shamed”. Most victims feel responsible somehow and “don’t want to get anyone in trouble”.

Girls are supposed to be sugar and spice and everything nice. Keep quiet. Be a good little girl. Stay silent, our secret, and don’t rock the boat. Daddy, uncles, cousins, step fathers and priests are looked at by children as godlike. We don’t want to get anyone in trouble. We feel responsible for abuse and for tarnishing our family’s reputation.  We don’t want to cause a divorce, get someone in trouble, or worse, be the cause of a death like Sister Cathy Cesnik.

How did the power of the Catholic Church affect this case and the victims?

In my opinion the Catholic Church is the 5th World Power. They have unlimited resources within the church establishment to hire the best lawyers, experts and private investigators. The fingers of the church reach every major institution including elected local and state officials, law enforcement (police departments), judges, hospitals, universities, financial markets, keepers of public records, the United States Supreme Court and the media.

When you go up against the Catholic Church it is synonymous with going up against the power of God. Victims feel God has abandoned them or they were serving God’s punishment for being bad. Even worse, that the sexual abuse was God’s will! The Catholic Church has the power of a force equal to a foreign country with a repressive regime. The church has had a long history of hiding priests to protect the assets of the church and the priest’s from civil and criminal accountability.

When I first saw the map in episode one, where Father Maskell had been transferred several times into a smaller area, I knew it was because it was from his acts of sexual assault. The church chose to transfer him rather than stop him. All the victims from Archbishop Keough, Maskell and other parishes could have been saved from the devastation of child sexual assault. Hundreds of children could have been saved had the church done the right thing, even one time. These supposed “men of God” decided to turn their backs and passed the predator on to the next unsuspecting group of children, teens and victims.

Does celibacy create child sexual abusers?

No, child sexual abuse and predatory behavior has nothing to do with the practice of celibacy. The church attracts sexual deviants who look both for the structure of the church and its restrictions to try and control their sexual hunger and deviancy or seek to be where there is unrestricted access to children. These are predators and pedophiles. Married priests would just be able to “grow” their own victims at home. The church gives them cover, protection, a place to hide, fellowship with other predators, and unrestricted access to children and child victims.

What is the connection between the priests, medical professionals and child sexual abuse?

It was clear alliances were formed with doctors to prevent pregnancy and to continue the sexual abuse unhindered. Drugging children or victims helped prevent memory, cover up abuse, and erase evidence of abuse with a medical diagnosis to cover physical trauma and injuries. Again, creating foundation for deniability, “girl troubled”, “schizophrenic” and everything a priest can use later. Doctors in this instance could sexually abuse with the priests “permission”. Approval from the priest made it okay and a “form of prayer”. It gave the notion God was ok with it and “it is at the direction of God to purify and rid child of demons”.

Why did some of the victims not remember?

You must understand trauma. Something can be so unbearable you must shut down the memory or it will destroy you. A child cannot survive with the knowledge of the unbearable acts committed upon them. Children respond to this kind of trauma in a similar way war veterans experience PTSD. Trauma leaks out in flashes, called “flashbacks”.  Sights, smells, sounds, trigger flashback to the traumatic experience. You see a small “flash” of it and then it is gone. A returning vet will hear a firecracker on the fourth of July and will duck behind a trashcan and reach for their firearm. Victims will only remember that which they are emotionally strong enough to deal with at a time they are strong enough to deal with it. Survival requires repression of memory. I remembered my childhood sexual abuse when I was 29 years old, in a courtroom, as a lawyer during my first child sexual abuse trial.

For More of Shari Karney’s Thoughts on The Keepers read our blog