On The Keepers, Catholics, and Complicity
The Netflix documentary, The Keepers, has floored me. For those of you who may not be familiar with it, it is the story of two women, Abby Fitzgerald Schaub and Gemma Hoskins, who have taken as their focus in life to bring to justice the murderer of a Baltimore nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik. It is a story of courage, of perseverance in the face of what could easily be considered insurmountable odds. It is an account of sexual abuse by Catholic priests; it is a story of power, of continued denial in the face of indisputable facts, of cover-up by a church body whose political power and experience in denial and smokescreen are unsurpassed. But these women have not given up. Nor have the brave women who were abused. They have stepped up to the plate as well. More power to them.
Since the documentary’s airing, scores of others have come forward. The response of the Archdiocese of Baltimore has been flat-out denials that they knew any of what was happening. While giving lip service to their care and concern for victims of abuse, their actions speak their values. The intrigue goes even deeper, with heinous links to police concealment and collusion rampant.
Spin-meisters and lawyers cannot solve this one for them. And one must ask the question – is there no priest, bishop, any of the (male) hierarchy of the church that will actually have the decency to tell the truth, to admit the duplicity of the church and offer a genuine, honest apology. Or is the church essentially a business – one that must protect its assets, its real estate holdings, and its pension program? It looks as if we have our answer.
I went to a Catholic grade school and high school. When I rejected Catholicism, it was because of my opposition to philosophy and teachings, not because of any negative interaction with the clergy. I was fortunate to have a humble, caring priest in grade school – he was a “monsignor,” though he preferred that people call him “father.” He was honest and without pretention. It was not until I was older that I became acquainted with the arrogance of the priesthood. Male power and female subservience. I knew that was not in the cards for me.
I look back on my high school days with fondness, for I found a cadre of colleagues I am still proud to call friends, and, while critical thinking was not encouraged, the nuns did not force-feed dogma. I was fortunate. I was not accosted by a priest, or priests, as were the girls in The Keepers, though I realize that it could have been me. It could have been any of us. And I know, just as the girls in the documentary, had something “untoward” happened, that I would never have come forward about it. I would not have told my parents, though they were not bound by religion; I would not have told the nuns; I would not have told my best friends – and I told them just about everything. No, I know that this would have been such a shameful occurrence, and, as in the case of most victims of abuse, I would have felt that, somehow, it was my fault, that I was to blame. I watched the victims, now in their 60s and 70s, speak of their ordeals, and I was right there with them. I cried with them, and even now, a week later, tears are ever-close to the surface.
Courage, perseverance. To Abby and Gemma, to the victims – you are amazing. At the end of the series, one of the participants listens to the patronizing cant from the Archdiocese. “Those fuckers,” she says. And with that, I heard and felt the voices of hundreds, perhaps thousands of women echoing her sentiments.
Perhaps the Catholic Church needs a primer on truth. If they want to know what it looks like, they need to watch The Keepers.