A child being sexually molested by a trusted adult is bad enough; when the molester is the Catholic priest from the parish the child has grown up with, the horror is magnified that much more. Not only is there all the usual shattering of trust and innocence that is the inevitable fallout of a child victimized by a predator, but the child's spiritual faith is shattered as well. In her powerful documentary Deliver Us From Evil, Amy Berg delves headfirst into the murky waters of pedophilia in the Catholic priesthood and the Church's culpability in covering it up, as told through the stories of three of the hundreds of victims of Catholic priest Oliver O'Grady, known to the families who trusted him as "Father Ollie."
What makes Berg's film both amazing and incredibly wrenching is that she was able to interview Father O'Grady extensively for the film. Almost as if he's using the camera as his own private confessional booth, O'Grady talks candidly about his problem -- being sexually attracted to children -- and how he used the position of spiritual trust granted him by the Church's authority to molest and rape the children of his parishes. You can't help but be chilled watching O'Grady -- an innocuous-looking older man now, with white hair and twinkling eyes, smile as he talks about getting sexually aroused by young children in their underwear, and smirk as he discusses being forgiven his sins by confessing them to another priest, as if his victims were chalkboards he could scribble all over and then erase.
Berg anchors her film with priests representing the best and the worst of the Church: On the one side, Father O'Grady, who molested and raped hundreds of children throughout his career as a priest (the youngest was a nine-month old infant) and on the other, Father Thomas Doyle, expert on canon law. The latter is a tireless champion for the rights of the victims of clergy abuse, and staunch advocate of the need for the Catholic Church to openly admit there is a problem, cease hiding the truth behind veils of lawyers and lies, and find a way to stop the abuse from happening to begin with.
Father Doyle, in one of his segments, discusses how you have to understand how being raised Catholic is different than being raised in other religions, and that having that understanding is crucial to fully grasping the extent of the damage a man like Father O'Grady could wreak. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools, and have an uncle who is a retired priest, and I understand exactly what Doyle means. When you are raised Catholic, you are taught from the cradle that the Church's authority is absolute, and that the Church is the only path to heaven. Within the hierarchy of the church, clergy are essentially the right hand of God, the bastions of faith and dispensers of hope and salvation. Being violated by your priest, therefore, is essentially like being violated by God and by the very faith that gives that person such absolute control over you. One of the victims talks about the way that priests are deified within the church, and how much power that gives them over the people -- especially the children -- of their parishes. O'Grady told more than one victim that their parents wouldn't have let them come to his house if there was anything wrong with what he was doing, and pulled his victims out of class to molest them in his office in the middle of the school day.
Imagine being a child in the hands of the man you believe to be connected to God himself, who, you are taught, is always watching, always knowing -- and that man raping you repeatedly within your own home, from the time you were five years old until you were 12. Ann Jyono, whose parents, Bob and Maria, were close friends with O'Grady for 23 years, let him stay at their home regularly overnight, never suspecting what he was doing to their daughter after they went to bed. She didn't tell until just a few years ago, when O'Grady was finally charged for his crimes. Watching Ann's father utterly break down while talking about what O'Grady did to his daughter -- raped her, he emphasizes through choked-back sobs, not molested, but raped a five-year-old girl -- is utterly devastating.
The great tragedy underlying the story of Father O'Grady is how many children might not have been victims, had Cardinal Roger Mahoney, Archbishop of Los Angeles, who was ultimately responsible for the archdiocese in which O'Grady lived and worked, been more interested in protecting the children residing in his diocese rather than furthering his own ascendancy within the Church. In order to keep things quietly under wraps -- and his own career safely on track -- Mahoney repeatedly moved O'Grady around to new parishes in Northern California, and when O'Grady was arrested, failed to provide to the police the information that he had been previously accused of molesting the children he worked with.
Through chilling deposition footage, Berg shows us Cardinal Mahoney and his second-in-command, Monsignor Cain, looking increasingly uncomfortable as they are asked why they failed to protect the children from Father O'Grady, pushing the blame to the Archdiocese lawyer when they aren't outright denying what's right in front of them. One of the victims, Nancy Sloan, talks about having confronted church officials as an adult about the abuse she endured at the hands of O'Grady, only to be told that they didn't take it seriously because she was a girl. Priests exploring their "sexual curiousity" with female children in their charge, apparently, was okay; priests messing with altar boys, though, that smacks of homosexuality -- and of course, the victim notes wryly, the Church takes that issue seriously. A third victim, Adam, whose mother was also a victim of O'Grady, is unable to move past the abuse. Like a vinyl record repeatedly skipping a track, Adam seems permanently stuck in a wasteland of hard anger that has rendered him unable to move on.
The Catholic Church, Berg notes at the end of her film, refused to be interviewed, so we don't hear their side of things, but there's certainly plenty of evidence both within and outside of this film to indict the church as morally culpable for massively covering up sexual abuse against children by clergy. To date, the Church has paid out over $1 billion in settlements, and civil and criminal investigations are ongoing. President Bush, at the request of the Vatican, granted immunity from prosecution to Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, from criminal charges that might result from the investigations.
Meanwhile, the children who were raped and molested by Oliver O'Grady and other priests, thought now to number in the hundreds of thousands, according to the film, struggle to hold onto their faith and let go of their pain. As for Father O'Grady? He's a free man now. After serving just seven years of a fourteen year sentence, O'Grady was deported to his native Ireland, where authorities were not told about his crimes. He lives quietly and freely there among young children.