Can We Take A Minute To Appreciate How Great The Women In The Keepers Are?

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Have you watched The Keepers? You should definitely watch The Keepers. And for good reason. Hailed as "the new Making A Murderer", the documentary series has fast become one of the most talked-about television shows of the summer.
For those not in the know, The Keepers is billed as an investigation into the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik in 1969. The series suggests that her murder was covered up because Sister Cathy knew information that would be harmful to the Catholic Church.
However, The Keepers is much more than a true crime documentary. It is, sadly, a heartbreaking example of repeated abuse of power – but it is also a testament to the women involved. Every single woman (save perhaps one...) featured across the seven episodes is a role model. They are the sort of women you want to put in textbooks for future girls to look up to. Many never got the justice they deserved and The Keepers now serves as a lasting reminder of their incredible courage.
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Working in Baltimore (home, too, to the crimes committed in podcasts Serial and Convicted), Sister Cathy Cesnik was a 26-year-old nun. It is said often during the show how beautiful she was, how well liked. Sister Cathy had, unusually for a nun in her order, secured a job in a local school and lived in a flat with another nun, Sister Russell Phillips.
The school where Cathy taught, Archbishop Keough High School, is the location of years of alleged child sexual abuse. No one has ever been convicted, although the archdiocese has paid out settlements to 16 people who have levelled accusations at the school's chaplain, Father Maskell – reported by many to be the ringleader and main perpetrator.
Beyond these 16 individuals, it's tough to know how many children were affected by the alleged abuse. Without going into spoiler territory, it is reported over the course of the documentary that abuse was widespread and that, for all the people who have come forward as alleged victims, there may have been many more.

The story is not what you might expect. #TheKeepers

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There are four main women at the centre of the documentary. First up are Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins; a crime-fighting odd couple of unlikely proportions. Both women are former students of Sister Cathy's and it is clear, even 50 years later, that the nun had a huge impact on both of them. In fact, Gemma says it was Cathy who inspired her to become a teacher herself.
For the past several years, they have been tirelessly leading their own investigation into the case. Despite being in their mid-60s, the two run a successful Facebook page (hands up whose similar-aged mums struggle even to upload a profile picture) which has been responsible for gathering information featured in the documentary. They also have a blog which collects articles and evidence. Abbie is timid and enjoys the research, spending hours poring over outdated news articles and ancient interviews. Gemma is more outgoing and takes it upon herself to go out and interview the people she thinks might have information. She's always nice about it, but she's got an edge you wouldn't want to cross.
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Not for nothing have they been compared to Making A Murderer's Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, the attorneys who represented Steven Avery and fast became viewers' favourites. Abbie and Gemma's dogged determination and tireless search for the truth about their former teacher has resulted in possibly the greatest meme of 2017 (so far).
The Keepers spends long, uncomfortable periods of time in the company of the former students of Archbishop Keough as they speak frankly about the abuse they claim to have endured at the hands of Father Maskell. It's painful to listen as these women, now in their 50s and 60s, describe their experiences. At the forefront is Jean Wehner.
Jean was, for a long time, known as "Jane Doe". She says she was witness to a shocking, case-changing piece of evidence which she suppressed, along with the other horrific memories of her childhood. However, when she says things started coming back to her later in life, rather than continue her family life and attempt to live with her demons, she chose to waive her anonymity and pursue justice. As it is, she's been key in providing weight and strength not only to those still investigating Sister Cathy's murder but also to the other alleged victims who, encouraged by her, have started to come forward as well.

TFW when female friendship, support, and determination reigns over all evil. Bawling. #TheKeepers

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Jean's measured delivery to camera, her bruised yet matter-of-fact emotional state, is a marvel. It is unfathomable that she is able to stand tall. And yet there she is, still fighting.
Finally, there is Sister Cathy. Not much older than the young women she taught, The Keepers makes much of her bravery in the face of oppression. As someone who had to plead her case just to teach at the school, the fact that – as The Keepers implies – she took it upon herself to stand up for her voiceless students in the face of a notoriously patriarchal and hugely powerful organisation is next level.
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In the overwhelmingly Catholic city of Baltimore, the Church was key. Priests were well known, liked and trusted by parents, by students and by public services. To take on a priest was to take on your religion; it was to take on an entire town. And it may have cost Cathy her life.
There are countless other women who took part in the documentary. Countless more that came forward and told their stories after years of trying to move on. Women who haven't ever found closure for the demons they deal with today. For us, the viewers, we need to watch for this very reason. We need to remember that taking part can't have been an easy task for these women, but my goodness, was it an important one.
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