Carol P. Christ’s Legacy: The Keepers and the Roman Catholic Church featuring Jean Hargadon Wehner

Moderator’s Note: Jean Hargadon Wehner, who is referenced and quoted by Carol in this post will be available to respond in the comments section. Feel free to ask her any questions. Jean has a new book out about her experiences. The link is at the bottom of the post.

Carol’s work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual and the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. This blog was originally posted July 10, 2017. You can read it along with its original comments here.

He told me his “come” was a sacrament… He made the sign of the cross with it on my breasts. Jean Hargadon Wehner in The Keepers

I sat glued to my television last weekend watching seven episodes of The Keepers one after the other. Out of all the horrific information in this Netflix documentary, these words stick in my mind. Jean Hargadon Wehner said Father A. Joseph Maskell told her that she was sinner after she confessed to him that her uncle had molested her. Father Maskell explained that her case was so severe that ordinary absolution might not work. Thus, he told her, she must participate in ritual sex with him in order to purify her soul. Jean Hargadon was too young and naive to question his authority. She only knew that she dreaded hearing her name called out on the school loudspeaker with instructions to report to Father Maskell’s office.

I watched Spotlightthe film that documented the Boston Globe’s expose of the Roman Catholic priest child abuse scandal, twice. It too was devastating to watch. Spotlight is a Hollywood film formatted as a detective story, focusing on a team of investigative reporters who refuse to give up until they bring the Roman Catholic hierarchy of Boston down. The story fits a familiar pattern: David conquers Goliath–or did he?

In contrast, The Keepers is a documentary that focuses on the untiring work of two ordinary women, Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Fitzgerald Schaub, who have been investigating the unsolved murder of their beloved teacher Sister Cathy Cesnik for years. They learn that one of the suspects, Father A. Joseph Maskell, not only molested scores of girls at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School, but also that he offered some of girls to the police in order to ensure their silence and collusion.

At the end of The Keepers, no victory is celebrated. Many of Father Maskell’s victims committed suicide or died of drug and alcohol abuse. Jean Hargadon Wehner and the other women who spoke on the film, continue to suffer. The murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik remains unsolved. The murder of Joyce Malecki, who may have been killed because she knew something about Joseph Maskell or Sister Cathy’s death, is also unsolved. At the time of the filming, the Roman Catholic Church was testifying that the statute of limitation on child abuse crimes should not be extended.

In April 2017, the state of Maryland finally passed a law extending the statute of limitation on child sex abuse until the victim’s 38th birthday, allowing time for fear to dissipate and repressed memories to surface. This is a victory of course. But there is no reason to think that the Roman Catholic Church will stop trying to cover up widespread sexual abuse by its priests any time soon.

People want to believe Francis is a good pope. His words concerning social justice and forgiveness have given hope to some. But his papacy is tainted by the cover-up of child sexual abuse. He was the one who appointed Australia’s Cardinal Pell as Vatican Treasurer, tasking him with cleaning up financial mis-dealings in the Vatican. What were Cardinal Pell’s qualifications? Pell headed the cover-up of the child abuse scandal in Australia.

As public allegations of clerical abuse grew, however, the Church turned to Pell, highly regarded as an able administrator, to save the Church in Victoria from reputational and financial damage.

Pell instituted an in-house scheme that, in return for the victims’ legally-enforceable silence, paid out a paltry average of $32,000 in compensation. This “hush money” scheme saved the Church potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation from civil suits.

The scale of the abuse eventually came to light through a royal commission which had been prompted by police whistleblowers. The commission’s statistics were shocking: between 1950 and 2010, there were 4444 allegations of incidents of child sexual abuse made against 1880 priests (7% of Australian Catholic priests). Pell’s diocese of Melbourne topped the national body count.

Pell’s involvement in covering up child sexual abuse apparently did not “taint” his reputation in the eyes of Pope Francis. Pell has recently been charged with abusing children himself while a priest in Australia. Even if Pope Francis did not know of this latter charge, why did he appoint someone involved in the Church’s cover-up of child sexual abuse to a top position in the Vatican? We can only assume that Pope Francis did not consider covering up child sex abuse to be a “high crime.” And we must ask, why did the two members who themselves were victims leave the Pope’s commission to investigate the child abuse scandal in the church?

As I noted in a previous blog, researcher and former priest Richard Sipe estimates that at any one time only 50% of the Roman Catholic clergy is celibate. In addition to his own research he cites the following studies:

A study of Swiss priests published on May 12, 2003, revealed that 50% of that clergy had mistresses. Father Victor Kotze, a South African sociologist conducted a survey of the priests in his country (1991) and found that 45% had been sexually active during the previous two year period.

Pepe Rodriguez published his book length study of the sexual life of clergy in Spain (La Vida sexual del Clero 1995). He concluded that among practicing priests 95% masturbate; 7% are sexually involved with minors and 26% have “attachments to minors;” 60% have sexual relations, 20% have homosexual relations.

He further refined the figures of 354 priests who were having sexual relations:

53% of these were having sex with adult women, 21% with adult men, 14% were sexually active with minor boys and 12% with minor girls. Although Rodriguez’ book caused a monumental debate no one has challenged the reality of his numbers.

According to Sipe, the widespread practice of “sexual sinning” among the Roman Catholic clergy makes it difficult for them to single out the child abusers in their midst. In other words, if more than 50% of the Roman Catholic clergy has “sinned” sexually at one time or another, who are they to cast stones at their brothers? Is Pope Francis himself one of the less than 50% of priests who have been celibate during their entire careers? And if not, does he feel he “shares” whatever guilt is attributed to those who break the vows of priestly celibacy? Could this be why as Pope he was willing to overlook or even to reward Cardinal Pell’s cover-up of the child abuse scandal in Australia?

Sipe warns that as long as celibacy is required of the Roman Catholic clergy, we can expect the cycle of abuse and cover-up to continue. Though the abuse of children is the most egregious, it is not only children who are abused in sexual relationships with Roman Catholic clergy.

In a throw-away line in The Keepers, Cathy Cesnik is quoted as having written to the priest with whom she was in love that she experienced his behavior as “erratic.” I assume that what she meant is that after they became intimate, he felt guilty and pulled away. How many adult women and men have been psychologically harmed by priests who act on their sexual urges and make promises they do not keep?

Hypocritical celibacy is a very sick system indeed.

Moderator’s note: Jean Hargadon Wehner, referenced by Carol and who was a central witness to the Netflix documentary series “The Keepers,” has written her own memoirs which include the story of her abuse and her subsequent healing journey. It will be published on March 1st. Follow this link for more information and to buy the book: Walking with Aletheia: a survivor’s memoir

* * *

BIO: Carol P. Christ (1945-2021) was an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator. Her work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual.

“In Goddess religion death is not feared, but is understood to be a part of life, followed by birth and renewal.”  — Carol P. Christ 

Categories: abuse, Abuse of Power, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. Thank you Jean for being available to “chat” and answer questions about this topic and your life. First I would like to honor your work and the trauma you have not only gone through but have also found ways to heal from. I actually haven’t seen The Keepers. Is it still available? The story sounds horrific. I do have a question. How did you get involved in the filming of The Keepers? And now looking back over all these years, do you feel that participating in it has been helpful to you in your own process?


    • Hi Janet,
      Yes, The Keepers is available on Netflix.
      I must say the story sounds horrific because unfortunately it was.
      The answers to your questions are involved and are addressed at length in my book Walking with Aletheia, I can say after putting my name on Jane Doe I was approached by a documentarian by the name of Ryan White. He requested I consider working with him to tell the story of clergy sexual abuse at my high school and the death of a SSND English teacher, Sister Cathy Cesnik. Participating in The Keepers and writing my memoir Walking with Aletheia have had a tremendously positive impact on my healing.
      I think you will see those fruits more clearly after watching The Keepers and reading my memoir.
      Thanks for chatting!


      • I find movies like The Keepers hard to watch because of my own history but I may have to give it a try. I do look forward to reading your book. Has there been any progress on solving the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Janet, thank you for sharing your concerns about watching the documentary due to your own history. One of my biggest concerns was if readers would understand my memoir if they had no idea about The Keepers. Considering I wanted to focus on my spiritual, emotional and psychological journey toward health and wholeness this was very important to me.

          Dr. Eligio Stephen Gallegos answered that question for me. Unbeknownst to me, when he wrote his book review for Walking with Aletheia, he knew nothing of The Keepers. Here is an e-mail he sent me after sending me his amazing review and then beginning The Keepers…

          “Since I wrote my brief book review for Walking with Aletheia I have begun to watch ’The Keepers’ and I am glad I read Jean’s book first. The Keepers was beautifully filmed and composed. However, it is about injury of the most severe kind, and Jean’s book is about healing. My understanding is that we need to focus on healing as she did, and even though the injury may be severe and violent, through the connection with the deep imagination we can help to focus the power that it contains in the direction of healing, growing, and maturing, and that is what the world needs right now. A seed grows in two directions: up into the sunshine and down into the earth. And it uses what it encounters and incorporates it into its growth and eventually into its blossoming. That is what I saw Jean doing as I read her book.” –
          — Eligio Stephen Gallegos, PhD, Psychologist

          I also have a To My Readers front page suggesting that those who may be triggered by some of the experiences I share in my memoir, consider having their therapist or trusted confident read it first. They can tell you what pages to skip, or just be there to talk after. I also tell readers to read slowly and pause to digest and reflect. Anything that I share is relevant to the amazing healing that I’m in the mist of!

          Unfortunately, anything that has been discovered pertaining to Sister Cathy’s murder is not shared with the general public. I can say, since The Keepers aired more survivors have been able to come out from hiding because they now know they are not alone. This is what I think Cathy would be most pleased with.

          I hope this helps!


  2. Janet, like you, I have a great deal of trouble watching movies like this –

    I had a confusing sexual experience with a minister i trusted at 14 – ugh –

    This sort of thing leaves holes…


  3. Congrats on such a wonderful review. I love the concept of seeds growing in both directions. When I write up elements of my own story I have used the quote from Nietzsche: “The tree that would grow to heaven must send its roots to hell.” I like the way Dr. Gallegos put it better.


  4. Sara, thanks for sharing and I’m sorry for what you went through as a 14 year old.

    When I participated in The Keepers it was after 20 years of being silenced by the Church and Legal System. Everything I had shared in the 90’s was kept in records, not made public. In order to speak my truth so others might know they weren’t alone, I had to believe that I was just talking to the director Ryan, the producer Jess & cameraperson John. Because of my fear and uncomfortableness talking about my confusing sexual experiences, most of the filming took place in my home or at a park I feel safe in. It took me a year and a half of filming before I could accept that what I was finally able to say, after 20 years of silence, would be shared with the world. I was beyond scared! When it came out I got off the grid. No one could find me if they tried.

    I am still effected by the sexual crimes committed against my person. I can only say the more integrated and healthy I become the more I need to advocate for other survivors, their families and support systems.

    Thanks again for sharing!


  5. Jean, in honor of your bravery and courage to step forward with this. My heart to you towards stopping this sort of heinous behavior. I will be purchasing your book and will also mention it on the divine feminine app. Sending much love.


  6. Hi Jean,
    I’m so inspired by you in the Keepers. I’m curious how this process has effected your spirituality and relationship with religion?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sarah,
      I’m glad to hear The Keepers had an inspiring effect on you. I talk a lot about how the process has effected my spirituality and connection to religion in Walking with Aletheia. During the past 30 years I have experienced the awakening to the Sacred Feminine. As you know from watching The Keepers my Catholic faith shattered with the recovering of unbelievable clergy sex abuse perpetuated on me as a teenager. At this time in my life I find value in all religions and have no one that I feel drawn to become a member of. For now, and ultimately the rest of my life, my religion is love. I find the practice of love is very fulfilling for me!
      I hope this helps.
      Thanks for “chatting”!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Dear Jean,
    your suggestions on how one might read your book is thoughtful and caring – thank you. I look forward to reading of your healing journey. The Keeper will wait until after I have read your book. i have watched many documentaries these last 20 years on the deep coverup of the religious organizations world wide who acted such hypocritical lives and who pernicious criminal behaviour while not been ‘spotlighted’ still does on … let us not forget… let us remain vigilant……. Much love to you and your inner child – how brave and courage are you…..
    xo Tess

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Tess for sharing your thoughts with me!

      Writing my book, Walking with Aletheia (Greek Goddess of Truth), was another powerful period of entering into my integration and healing process.

      My intention was not to focus on the horrible abuse and coverup, even though for us to truly understand how far a person has come we need to know where they have been. My goal was to focus on the amazing healing journey I have been on. With that, I wanted others of any kind of trauma, to know they were not alone; that they too could depend on that inner wisdom within each of us to help guide them.

      I hope when you and others read my book, you will feel the power of the human spirit within my amazing ongoing healing!

      If you would prefer to listen to me read my book, my audiobook will be available March 8th, first on my website, then on Amazon around March 15th.

      Tess, thanks again for stopping to “chat” with me!

      Liked by 2 people

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