FOR THE VICTIMS THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS SALVATION.
There are times when one has to wonder how the Catholic Church manages to get away with things. Its leaders are quick to point out moral failures in others, but whenever one of their priests commit crimes the Church is always the last to take responsibility. When Bernard Cardinal Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston in 2002 after it was revealed that he had protected pedophile priests, he was given a plush job in Rome. Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating once compared leaders of the Catholic Church to the Mafia. Much like organized crime groups, the Church knows how to take care of their own.
This shocking documentary does not focus on the abuse scandal in Boston, but another one. Unfortunately, there’s plenty to choose from. The film introduces us to Father Oliver O’Grady and several of his victims. O’Grady left Ireland for California in 1971, serving in the city of Lodi. For over two decades he molested 25 boys and girls, according to his own statements, and every time his superiors found out about “problems” in his congregation they simply moved him to a new one. O’Grady ended up serving the Lord and raping more children in Stockton, Turlock, San Andreas and Hughson, California before he was arrested and sentenced to prison in 1993. Six years later O’Grady was released and deported to Ireland where he now lives on a pension provided by the Church. Meeting him in this film is a strange experience. O’Grady is a charming, pleasant man who speaks openly of his crimes and the need for more action from the Church in order to prevent future abuse scandals… but the more we get to know him we learn how sick he is and that his degenerate character was shaped already in his youth when he was himself molested by his brother (and subsequently his priest). You never get the feeling that he understands what he did or how those actions ruined the lives of some people. There’s a poignant scene where he writes letters to his victims, telling them that he’s sorry and that he would like to meet them as a way to forgive and forget. The absurdity of his almost cheerful offer is understandably met with derision by those victims who appear in the film.
No narration – and no need for it
Director Amy Berg’s structure is simple but effective. There is no narration, but no need for it either. Thanks to the interviews of O’Grady and his victims we get more than a glimpse into their minds. Berg also takes the story of her documentary to higher Church levels and assigns blame on those who abetted O’Grady, not least Roger Cardinal Mahony, the current Archbishop of Los Angeles, who still claims that as Bishop of Stockton there was nothing he could do to stop O’Grady; there’s tragically amusing footage of him squirming in his seat during a hearing, unable to satisfactorily explain his handling of the case. We also meet Thomas Doyle, a priest who started helping abuse victims in legal cases, who gives us some perspective on the Church’s thinking and history on the matter of clerical celibacy, which is part of the problem.
The most unforgettable scenes are the interviews with Bob and Maria Jyono, parents of Anne who was molested by O’Grady when she was a girl. They tell us how they invited the priest into their home and trusted him; when they talk about the moment when they learned the truth about what Anne was exposed to, it’s impossible not to be deeply moved by their tears and anger. They no longer believe in God – and that’s a consequence a Church in denial must face.
Deliver Us From Evil 2006-U.S. 101 min. Color. Produced by Amy Berg, Matthew Cooke, Frank Donner, Hermas Lassalle. Directed by Amy Berg.
Last word: “I feel like the issues that I’m addressing in this film are not … there are plenty of global hypocritical issues that I could have attacked that diverge from this but have some relation. I am just looking at how they deal with clergy sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church, that’s it, period, and the issue of pedophilia and maybe why he did what he did. I think the congregation and the people are totally separate. The Catholic people that have been coming to these screenings and coming up to me afterwards say, ‘This is the thing that we are ashamed of in our church. Thank you for giving this some light because we want our church to be a healthy place again. We don’t want it to be about sex abuse. We want it to be about why we are here.’ I think it can be empowering if you look at it like that.” (Berg, The Evening Class)