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Attorney believes criminal charges a possibility in 'The Keepers' investigation

Posted at 8:46 AM, Apr 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-13 09:22:04-04

BALTIMORE — It's been nearly five years since "The Keepers” came out on Netflix, and now more than three years, since the Maryland Attorney General launched a grand jury investigation into the three catholic dioceses in Maryland.

One of the survivors featured in "The Keepers" - Jean Hargadon-Wehner - has written a new book about her recovery. “Walking with Aletheia” details the sexual abuse she endured as a young child, and then again as a student at the now-closed Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore.

“I am still in my body, and I still need to deal with it. I can't get those images out of my head," she told WMAR-2 News, in a recent interview.

She writes that one of the keys to her recovery has been the support of her family. Many victims do not have that, especially when the abuser is only determined to be "credibly accused" - not actually convicted of a crime.

“The family needs to be supported with that justice. They need to be told, 'this happened,” Hargadon-Wehner said.

Jean Hargadon-Wehner emerged as "Jane Doe" in the early 1990's in an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Years later, she decided to talk about the abuse at Keough High School, on camera, in "The Keepers" - using her real name.

Then and now, she says the desire to reach and potentially help more victims has been her motivation. “The whole reason that I can do this (interview) or I can do book-signings, or whatever is going to come, is to get this as far as it will go,” she said.

But just reaching victims, she said, does not bring about the full measure of justice. Criminal charges against the abuser or people who allowed it to continue would do that. After the release of "The Keepers" several states did start investigations into clergy abuse.

Just over a year later, the attorney general of Pennsylvania announced the results of a massive grand jury investigation that detailed hundreds of cases of abuse, and instances where catholic dioceses simply moved known abusers to new parishes.

“They wanted to cover up, the cover up. They sought to do the same thing that senior church leaders in the diocese we investigated, have done for decades. Bury the sexual abuse by priests upon children and cover it up forever,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, in a news conference shortly after the release of that report.

A similar investigation was launched in Maryland, where the events of "The Keepers" took place. But after three-and-a-half years, there's been no announcement of any findings.

“It's always that feeling. I feel like I am thrown back in time. It's like they're keeping a secret. The silence is un-nerving,” Hargadon-Wehner said.

Kurt Wolfgang, an attorney who runs the non-profit Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, has been helping abuse victims connect with the attorney general’s investigators.

“When I watched the Netflix series I immediately contacted some of the victims and asked them if we could help,” Wolfgang said.

The investigation is now being coordinated by former Baltimore City mayoral candidate, and candidate for lieutenant governor, Elizabeth Embry.

“Some of our people know her, and I am told that she is a woman of great integrity and really cares,” Wolfgang said.

He said he believes that unlike the Pennsylvania grand jury, the Maryland investigation will lead to criminal charges.

“I don't know if any of them will be related to the Keough High School matters at all. But I believe there will be many indictments,” he said.

But he did say that in addition to nearly four years, of not providing relief to known victims - not releasing findings along the way could be putting more young people in danger.

“I have grave concerns that they want to hold all this for release at one time for some reason, when in fact some of these people that have been complained about are probably child molesters who are still out on the loose right now,” Wolfgang said.

Of course- many of the abusers are already dead - including fathers Neil Magnus and Joseph Maskell from Keough High School.

When it comes to whether attorney general's investigation will lead to criminal charges, against any living abuser, Jean Hargadon-Wehner has gone from faith, to suspicion.

“I have seen no tying things up. I see now, just a sense of, are they still doing anything? That's how empty it has felt,” she said.

Hargadon-Wehner said she's hoping for indictments of any living person who abused a child - or who covered up the abuse by moving that person to a different area. She is also hoping the attorney general will make public any information about those moves, which could be contained in records from the church, submitted to the investigators.

A spokeswoman for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh did confirm the investigation is still going on, but did not give any timeline for its completion, saying only that they do not comment on on-going investigations.

However, the spokeswoman did say in cases that could put more young people in danger, they do make referrals to the local state's attorney's office, to bring charges. She cited the recent announcement of charges filed against a former wrestling coach from Mount Saint Joseph High School as an example of that.

The Maryland Attorney General’s office has set up a hotline to report information about sexual abuse by members of the clergy. The phone number is (410) 576-6312.