Taking this dynamic a step further, The Keepers manages to incorporate the public into its very storyline. Hoskins and Schaub embody the idea that citizenship is about much more than one’s nationality. Part of this “much more” involves utilizing whatever resources we have at our disposal to hold the powers that be accountable when they fail us. While we can’t fix every lapse in the justice system, we are far from helpless. Resilience, hard work, and dogged persistence can go a long way toward making a difference—even if that difference involves only one long-forgotten case. Hoskins and Schaub are the show’s beleaguered faces of hope, and we are meant to see their struggle as our own.
Complicating the show’s tentative optimism, however, is the outspoken Jean Wehner. Known simply as “Jane Doe” in the series, Wehner’s sordid revelation involves everything from systematic sexual abuse to the murder of Catherine Cesnik itself. As an adult, Wehner began to recover increasingly oppressive memories of her teenage years, memories that involved molestation, rape, and even murder. It turns out that behind the respectable academic façade, Archbishop Keough High School was a den of sexual abuse.
Wehner’s account not only implicates other clergy members, but also points to malfeasance within the church, the police force, and the justice system. According to Wehner, the ringleader was none other than Fr. Joseph Maskell, the school’s chaplain and counselor. Most importantly, Wehner claims that Maskell once threatened her by taking her to see the decaying corpse of Cathy Cesnik, the only person who seemed capable of putting a stop the incessant abuse.
Ryan White, the man behind the scenes of The Keepers, spent three years on the documentary. His investment in the case is also personal: White’s aunt was one of Cesnik’s students and a classmate of Wehner’s. There’s little doubt that this personal connection played a major part in securing Wehner’s trust. Having already encountered fierce legal resistance to her allegations, she is now very cautious about sharing her story. (She threw down the gauntlet in her initial meetings with White, subjecting the director to a thorough interrogation before she agreed to appear in front of his lens.)
As The Keepers clearly demonstrates, White more than earned Wehner’s trust. Her onscreen descriptions of her ordeal at Archbishop Keough are some of the most harrowing I’ve personally ever endured. Staring straight into the camera, Wehner describes deeds of such excessive cruelty and abject degeneracy that it’s hard to imagine how she can even marshal the strength to form the words. At one point, she finishes recounting a particularly perverse and grueling event, puts her head in her hands, and begins to weep. White keeps the camera on her for what feels like an eternity.