Let’s Discuss: The Keepers, Netflix Documentary Series about the Murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik and Systemic Sexual Abuse

The Keepers, Netflix, Cathy Cesnik, Systemic Sexual Abuse, Catholic Church, Spiritual Abuse, Clergy Sexual Abuse


The Keepers is a new documentary series airing on Netflix. I have watched 5 of the episodes and it is excellent. If you have seen Spotlight, it is similar, however, the investigative reporters in this case are two grandmas who have spent the last three years compiling details of the case and trying to get answers as to who killed their beloved former high school teacher, Sister Cathy Cesnik in 1969.

Like the movie, Spotlight, the series uncovers systemic sexual abuse of female students at Archbishop Keough High School in Maryland by Father Maskell who was a counselor on campus. When I refer to the word “systemic,” I mean it is a whole system of cover-up and abuse. Father Joseph Maskell was not the only one who committed the crimes. His friends in high places also committed sexual crimes and helped to conceal the crimes: police officers, businessmen in the community, etc.

The first episode lays the groundwork for the story and introduces the main characters. Then, the second episode goes into repulsive, unimaginable sexual abuse descriptions. This episode is definitely difficult to watch and I would caution those who get triggered by topics of abuse to be very careful watching it. The second episode was the most difficult for me to watch, but this is important information to know how insidious these crimes were, not only sexually, but spiritually.

Because this documentary series is being discussed so much, I wanted to have a post specifically to address it, and especially to be a place where people can discuss how it may have affected them.

So, let’s use this post to discuss how the show may have affected us and try not to include spoilers for those who have not yet watched it.

Below, I have gathered a variety of links that may be of interest. I encourage you to check out the first link, especially. It is excellent.

Note:  While this sexual abuse scandal – also connected with the systemic abuse cover up with cases around the world uncovered by the Boston Globe Spotlight team occurred in the Catholic Church, Protestant churches are not exempt from these types of scandals. We know of the  Sovereign Grace Ministries sexual abuse scandal which is still ongoing. I am personally aware of several others that are “under the radar.” No one church group is exempt from systemic abuse.


Related Links

A website was set up for the movie here:  The Keepers. I am very impressed with the information presented at the site, from information about the series, to helpful resources for survivors, therapies, systemic abuse, how to help, etc.

The following links are related and may be of interest:

After The Gospel Coalition Staunchly Defended CJ Mahaney in Sovereign Grace Ministries Sex Abuse Scandal, They Now Promote the Movie Spotlight (Sex Abuse Coverup)

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Sex Abuse Victim Natalie Rose Greenfield, the Timeline, Doug Wilson’s Attempt to Shift Focus off the Real Story

Doug Wilson, Christ Church, CREC, Sex Abuse, Natalie Rose Greenfield, Timeline, Jamin Wight

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Doug Wilson Series: Introduction, Christ Church Celebrates 40 years and Background

Doug Wilson, Christ Church, CREC, Greyfriars Hall, Association of Classical & Christian Schools, Canon Press, New Saint Andrews, Steven Sitler, Jamin Wight

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Some Pastors Think They Get to Control the Details of Your Lives, Even the Colors of Clothes You Wear

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Attempting to Set the Doug Phillips Record Straight: Part 1 – The Puzzle of Control

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Attempting to Set the Doug Phillips Record Straight:  The Puzzle, Types of Control by Church Leaders, Vision Forum, Boerne Christian Assembly, and a Characterization of Phillips

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When Your Religious Leader Falls Off the Pedestal

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Cindy Kunsman responds to fallen spiritual leaders and spiritual abuse after the Doug Phillips scandal.

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Facebook Comments Removed from Tony Miano’s Facebook Page When Commenter Asks About Donation $$

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Tony Miano put out a plea for donations on his Facebook page,  however, Tony’s admin guy, Chris H. deleted comments made by someone questioning about the money.  The commenter was accused of slander, defamation, and threatened to ban from posting on the Facebook page.  Bully, much?

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Doug Phillips: His Power and Control Using “Godly” Patriarchy

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Doug Phillips was a powerful man.  He used “godly” power and control to silence, to man the ship of his business, ministry, church, home, women, employees, and everything around him.

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When Sharing Concerns or Asking Pastors Questions Leads to Spiritual Abuse

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Questioning authority or raising concerns can be the litmus test to see if your pastor is spiritually abusive or not.

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Harvest Bible Chapel Files Complaint Against Blogger Paul Dohse, Resulting in Loss of YouTube Privileges

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In a concerted attempt to control others, someone from Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC) filed official complaint with YouTube against blogger Paul Dohse’s YouTube account, resulting in blogger’s loss of YouTube privileges. Continue reading

Harvest Bible Chapel: #Spiritual Abuse 101 Tweets from Elder’s Letter


Last week I posted a letter from Dave Corning who was a long-time elder at Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC), under Pastor James MacDonald.  I mentioned that Corning’s letter would be my go-to letter for describing spiritual abuse because it described some of the most common tactics spiritual abusers use. Continue reading

Why Does Calvin’s God Feel Abusive to Me? I Didn’t Choose This!

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The Lord works righteousness and

justice for all who are oppressed.  

Psalm 103:6

I have never, ever connected so deeply with someone else’s spiritual experience as I have recently with reader, Oasis.  The tears . . . . oh, the tears.  This deep, gut-wrenching, sobbing pain is so real for some of us.  I cannot believe I am doing this, but I’m feeling that right now I need to try to clearly articulate my feelings about Father God and how He relates with the abuse some of us have incurred. Continue reading

Should We Speak out about Our Spiritually Abusive Church?

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This comment came in on an earlier thread and there are so many answers.  Because I spoke out against my former church, one of the most common questions in e-mails I get is:  “should I speak out about our abuse to current members?”    Here it is again:

Our family left an unhealthy church about 7 months ago. We were a part of the church for over 20 years. When we first joined, we were in our early 20′s. We were young, immature and unaware that unhealthy churches existed. I noticed something was wrong about 10 years ago. The pastor was authoritarian and a micro-manager.

We started visiting other churches but we didn’t find one we both liked. I feel we went back because of denial and fear. We were in denial of the spiritual abuse because it was so subtle. Continue reading

Statement from T4G: Mohler, Dever, Duncan in Support of C.J. Mahaney Was Altered!

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Today I was disappointed to discover that the public statement released by  highly respected Christian leaders, Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan in support of their friend, C.J. Mahaney, was altered.  The original statement which was posted on Facebook is not the same statement currently posted on the Together for the Gospel website.

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Just like that: T4G Statement of Support for Mahaney is Removed!!

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This morning, I started to add a new comment to the Together for the Gospel statement released on Facebook yesterday and noticed the comment number decreasing.  When I refreshed the screen, the whole thing was GONE!  Zilch, Nada!

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Response to Apology – Trolls and Spiritual Abuse

Last week, Fred Butler issued a public apology to the Smith Family on his own blog per my husband’s request.  Comments on the post were closed, so I have copied Steve’s words here (and sent Fred an e-mail):


Concerning what you wrote about Hannah – your apology is accepted and I forgive you. Thank you for taking my request to heart.  Bear in mind I’m only speaking for myself, not JA or Hannah. 

One further question: How much oversight do you give GCC peers or pastors over what you write publicly?  I realize you may never answer that question, but for sensitive issues like this it is human to write something hurtful in the heat of passion over strong beliefs.  It is easy to take a favorite side without investigating the facts.   With GCC being such a trend-setting church worldwide I’m sure the broadcast image of all the elders is very important. 



I, too, have forgiven Fred for last week’s inappropriate comments regarding my daughter and repercussions on our family and have sent Fred a personal e-mail.  Hannah accepted Fred’s apology earlier.

Thanks to reader Tom Kelley for submitting this 🙂

Trolls and Spiritual Abuse

I lost track of how many posts were deleted these past few days.  These are not the typical trolls that cause disruption on blogs,  These trolls are posting very hurtful comments directed towards my daughter and Emily and her friend, who were also former members.  Other comments were disruptive, just to stir up trouble and waste my time.

I’ve been saying from the beginning that the lawsuit was about spiritual abuse;  a pastor is trying to exert his control over those who have left to prevent them from talking.  The lawsuit was an attempt to shut down this blog.  The pastor and some of his people will do anything to sabotage this blog, including trying to bring sympathetic outsiders into their fight against us by spreading gossip, and using them to continue this battle as was evidenced last week.  (Fred mentioned in his blog comments:  “Your old pastor emailed me when I put up my second post on wicked sheep to tell me how much he appreciates my being discerning with my post and comments interacting with other “survivor bloggers” and to explain his side of the story. “

What’s interesting is that in their quest to cause disruption here, they are blatantly sinning (calling young girls disgusting names) and bullying and showing no Christ-like behavior.   Would God call people to sin in order to fight His battles?    I don’t think so.  People who are so blinded that they behave in such a fashion are also ones who could be easily deceived and convinced to drink the tainted kool-aid because they have lost common sense of what is right and what is wrong.  Please pray for these folks as they are in a dangerous place.

In light of the above, I am going to toughen up the posting rules a bit.  I will periodically switch from moderated to unmoderated comments,  as necessary.  I am much more inclined to delete Anonymous posts, so please refrain from posting using “Anonymous” as a name.  Instead, either use your real name (first name is fine), or select a pseudonym and stick with the pseudonym.   Thank you for your understanding.

Let’s move on . . . . 

No Gossip Allowed in My Church!


Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Summer and winter, and spring-time and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

I hope you will indulge me with a slight diversion.  I went for a walk this morning and saw this . . . .

and a little further down the path where there were more trees and greenery, and an island in the middle of the river where birds congregate, I heard this:



(ok, I’m a dork, but I love that loud squawk at the end). 

It’s been a year since we have moved from the land of green and never-ending rain in the Portland, OR area to the land of dry desert (only 4 hours away!) in eastern Washington.  I love lush green and could never imagine living in the desert, but now when I look at the above photo, I see beauty – immense beauty, and I’m so thankful to be at a place where I can look around and see this.  I’ve experienced all four seasons here and it is a different kind of beauty than what I’m used to, but it is breathtaking to me now.  I see God’s wonderful creation, both in the lush green and now in the desert.  God is not limited to a church building (and the people said AMEN!).  I want to encourage those who are struggling with God and how to find Him, to take a step back and connect with Him in safe places, on a morning walk, in song, in your relationships, etc.  Find what feels safe and rest there for a bit.  

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For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them,

for God has shown it to them. 

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:18-21


Once again, the comments have led the discussion to this topic and I think it’s important to dig a little deeper and talk about gossip as it relates to spiritually abusive churches.  

Gossip is an important topic in any church, actually in any environment, work, school, etc.  The bible is clear that it can tear down relationships and cause great division.  There are numerous verses on the topic, but here are a few:


“a perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28)

 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.  Rom 1:29-32


And here we read specifically about women as “gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (1 Timothy 5:12-13).  Ouch!

Dictionary’s definition of gossip:  casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true

The author of this article breaks the word gossip into six categories:

These are the 6 things that fall under the category of gossip. If anyone who calls themselves a person who loves the Lord, sings the praises of God, worships in fellowship with other believers, pray, read the Word of God, say they love God and at the same time engage in gossip and everything that goes along with gossip,(busybody, talebearer, slander, evil whispering, evil speaking and backbiting), is practicing hypocrisy therefore making that person a hypocrite! 

Yes, there is no doubt, gossip is a serious problem and we must be careful to not get caught in the trap.

Early this morning, I approved a one-word comment:  “Gossip”.  I was in bed when I approved it and unable to see the context, so my brain went on a wild goose chase trying to figure out the context.  I found the context here and it made sense:

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wallflowerJuly 4, 2012 9:12 PM

“on Saturday night, we got the call from an elder that we were not welcome to come to church there anymore.” Every time you post this I get the creeps. In our case there was a Saturday night phone call from the same “elder” who called you that effectively ended our time at the so-called church. Current attenders, be cautious if you get a Saturday night call from this elder! You may want to record it for legal reasons.

I’m not sure who you are, but I’ll bet we could have an interesting time sharing creepy stories.




To Anonymous–

Not gossip, truth. Gossip is what comes from a certain pulpit where, instead of preaching the gospel of grace, members and former members of the church are railed against, by name, with lies and half-truths (again, lies).

THAT is gossip. It’s not excused because it comes from a pastor or from the pulpit. Imagine where that church would be if he worried less about others–and himself–and more about Christ and His flock.

People sharing true experiences is not gossip.

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Will’s comment was spot on!  The no-gossip rule ties in clearly with the “no-talk” rule (which is defined here in the Definition Section).  You see, if people were allowed to talk and share their experiences, enough people would have seen a pattern and this could have been dealt with before it got this far.  Instead, we have a cycle of “don’t gossip”, with pastor/elders reading scriptures like Hebrews 13:7 (Remember those who rule over you…) to hush us.  Bottom line is our talk was controlled.  We did not have liberty to discuss truths that we experienced freely because it was labeled as gossip.  

Truth sometimes is divisive.  It doesn’t mean it is always gossip.  We need to be careful about that.  What is the intention of our heart when we share our experiences?  Is it in anger or malice?  I know my intention for going public.  It was to say:  YO!!!  There’s a problem here.  God is not being honored in this situation, and in fact, God is being trampled upon by false teachings, hearts are turning AWAY from God, HELP!!!!


Will addresses something that I hadn’t considered regarding gossip from the pulpit.  He frequently mentioned current conflicts from the pulpit (between him and other “so-called” pastors, etc,), so it would only make sense that he would be bringing this lawsuit to the forefront of conversation at the church.  Look at what he posted publicly about me and others:

Chuck O’Neal ‎ – Nov 18, 2009

JulieAnne’s Destructive Slander Continues To Whom It May Concern: Almost a year ago JulieAnne and her husband were Biblically put out of Beaverton Grace Bible Church with a group of families and individuals that were engaged in ongoing divisive slander. After attending many churches and leaving them in a similar manner, the group has now splintered. Many of those in this factious group no longer attend church at all. It is sad to see that JulieAnne remains steadfast in her destructive behavior. For obvious reasons we exhort you to heed the following Scriptures:  Prov 6:16-19 16 These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 A false witness who speaks lies, And ONE WHO SOWS DISCORD AMONG BRETHREN. Prov 16:28 A perverse man SOWS STRIFE, And A WHISPERER SEPARATES THE BEST OF FRIENDS. Prov 26:20 Where there is NO WOOD, THE FIRE GOES OUT; And where there is NO TALEBEARER, STRIFE CEASES. Rom 16:17-18 NOW I URGE YOU, BRETHREN, NOTE THOSE WHO CAUSE DIVISIONS AND OFFENSES, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and AVOID THEM. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. Titus 3:9-11 But AVOID FOOLISH DISPUTES, genealogies, CONTENTIONS, and strivings about the law; for THEY ARE UNPROFITABLE AND USELESS. 10 REJECT A DIVISIVE MAN AFTER THE FIRST AND SECOND ADMONITION, 11 KNOWING THAT SUCH A PERSON IS WARPED AND SINNING, being self-condemned. It is our prayer that there will be no more wood thrown upon the fire of contentiousness, strife, discord, and division. It is our prayer that the fire will go out and that the body of Christ at BGBC will be able to press on “in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). It is our prayer that those who started the fire and have cut, stacked, and stoked much wood upon it, will repent, for God’s glory and their blessing. If you have any questions, please contact the pastor and elders. May we be evermore convinced of mankind’s sinfulness and of our need for God’s amazing grace through faith in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. God STILL has the whole world and His Church in His very capable hands. For Christ and His Church, Pastor Chuck O’Neal, Elder Dave Loynes, Elder Dale Weaver

and this is another review:


DEFAMATION IS A CRIME: It is convenient and crafty to wage a three and a half year war of reviling defamation in which you and those with you ACCUSE THE PASTOR AND CHURCH OF HORRIFIC CRIMES AGAINST GOD AND MEN, to then hide behind 1 Cor. 6:7-8.



Anonymous is convinced that I am a gossip.  If the above was posted publicly, I can only imagine what is said to the remaining church privately and in church meetings to the congregation.  If this is what that congregation sees and perhaps hears on an ongoing base from the pastor, is it any wonder that I get “divisive” comments on my blog from time to time.  These comments are meant to challenge me.  The people in the church have come along side him in his thinking and I and “those with me” are considered the enemy.

In the context above, the Anonymous poster felt that sharing our creepy stories is gossip.  Stories that we might share with one another may be hard to hear, is uncomfortable, but it is the truth and not gossip.  I am speaking the truth in the most loving way I know because I care and love that body of Believers.  I care for their souls.  And believe it or not, I have love for the pastor as well.  The people of that church need a pastor who cares for their souls, not one who goes after former members in creepy ways.  Going after former members is destructive and a distraction to the real responsibility of a pastor.  It must be stopped.  So until it is stopped, those of us who have left must continue speaking the truth in love – – – which is NOT gossip.