I started watching this show on Netflix a while back — and it began in a way that sounds so familiar to anyone familiar with the abuses of the Catholic church. A young nun vanishes, and is later found dead, murdered. Who did it? It must have been one of the priests! And there were multiple killings! And all kinds of sordid sexual goings-on, with the accused priest being further accused of calling young Catholic school girls into his office and doing unseemly things.
But it started going all wrong a couple of episodes in. The accusations were becoming increasingly strident, the crimes ever more depraved. And then we discover that there is no actual evidence for this story (other than that yes, there were murders), and that the details are all coming from the repressed memories of Jane Doe, who was recalling all these terrible incidents decades after the fact. Or after the confabulation. Or something. None of it was unbelievable, and I gave up on the show.
Mark Pendergrast watched the whole thing, and also dug up additional aspects of the story that were conveniently left out of the show. Jane Doe (real name: Jean Wehner) has a whole elaborate mythology of incredible events that occurred in the 1970s.
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. (Netflix is notorious for keeping viewer numbers secret, but Newsweek revealed that it had the top two streaming shows in 2016, both with over 20 million viewers.) 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.
None of this is how memories actually work, but it does tell us one thing: people are weird. Whether it’s lurid stories of rampaging priests or bizarre tales of pedophile rings in pizza parlor basements, people are capable of believing unbelievable things. Movie makers ought to feel some responsibility for addressing credible issues and dismissing the incredible ones, or they’re no better than Alex Jones.