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The Keepers: A Dangerous, Misleading Netflix Series

FMSF News Alert - July 25, 2017

Dear Friends,

Sometimes media events take a step backwards.

J.Bean and Pamela


The Keepers: A Dangerous, Misleading Netflix Series

By Mark Pendergrast

The Keepers, a popular seven-part documentary series aired by Netflix in May 2017, heavily promotes the theory of repressed memories by resurrecting and validating a previously dismissed Baltimore case from the early 1990s.

The show relies on recovered memories of abuse to convince viewers that a now-deceased Catholic priest, Joseph Maskell, or another priest known only as "Brother Bob," murdered a young nun named Cathy Cesnik in 1969, in order to prevent the nun, an English teacher, from reporting sexual abuse of high school students at Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland.

The series is dramatic, artfully constructed, and based on real events, but it is extremely misleading, especially in accepting without question the validity of repressed memories.

The Keepers purveys all the old stereotypes, including a psychologist who explains confidently: "Some things we experience are so unbearable and so painful that we shut them out." This popular series could undo years of good memory science in the public arena.

The star of the series is Jean Hargadon Wehner, known as "Jane Doe" in the dismissed lawsuit, who was a student at Keough from 1967 to 1971. She had no abuse memories until she reached adulthood, but beginning in 1981, Wehner began to see a series of counselors and therapists, including massage and movement therapists.

She also learned to put herself into a prayerful trance, which she called "dialoguing with the inner child," a kind of pseudo-multiple-personality state in which she identified various internal child personalities named Jeannie, Beth, Gloria, Ethel, and Martha.

During the 1980s, she recovered memories of how her uncle and an array of strangers abused her from age three to twelve - typical of false "massive repression" memories with a ritual abuse flavor. She also recalled that the uncle abused her ten siblings, though none of them remember it.

During the 1990s, Wehner read an array of popular books about repressed memories. In 1992, she began therapy with Ph.D. psychologist Norman Bradford (currently in practice and a professor at Goucher College in Baltimore), who had her keep a dream journal.

Shortly afterwards, she began to retrieve her first memories of priest abuse, starting with Father Neil Magnus, whom she envisioned masturbating while he took her confession. When she discovered that Magnus was dead, Wehner switched to retrieving memories of abuse by another priest, Joseph Maskell, who had been her high school counselor. She eventually recalled vaginal and anal rape (sometimes with a vibrator), oral sex, enemas, him putting a gun in her mouth, and forced prostitution.

But Wehner’s sex abuse memories expanded dramatically beyond Maskell to include two policemen, three high school teachers, a local politician who practiced a political speech while she performed oral sex on him, three more priests (Father Schmidt, Father John, and Father Daniels), four religious brothers (Brother Tim, Brother Bob, Brother Frank, and Brother Ed), two religious sisters (Nancy and Russell), and another religious brother known only as Mr. Teeth, who read from the Book of Psalms as he had sex with her. Wehner also remembered that she herself killed an unidentified nun at her school.

Yet the millions of people who have viewed The Keepers did not learn many of these background facts.

What viewers see is that Jean Hargadon Wehner seems to be an attractive, sensitive, self-assured woman with a supportive, wholesome family, and that she claims to have recovered memories of abuse by Father Maskell and a few others.

As part of her prayerful memory process, Wehner visualized how Father Maskell had taken her to see Cathy Cesnik’s body, and that her face had been crawling with maggots. Maskell must have known that she would immediately repress the memory, just as she allegedly forgot her rapes every time the door clicked shut as she was leaving his office. When Maskell"s body was exhumed in 2017 (he died in 2001), his DNA did not match the DNA at the murder scene.

Perhaps Maskell was a voyeuristic molester. Another former student always recalled how he fondled her and enjoyed watching her douche herself. But the repressed memories of rape and murder are highly questionable. Reputable memory scientists have found that years of traumatic events are impossible to forget.

--Mark Pendergrast is a science writer and independent scholar and the author of many books (www.markpendergrast.com.) He discusses The Keepers in his forthcoming book, Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die (October 2017).