There are two villains in “Deliver Us from Evil,” an enraging documentary about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. One, of course, is Father Oliver O’Grady, the saintly looking old Irish priest who molested dozens, perhaps hundreds, of children in central California in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. The other is Cardinal Roger Mahony, now the archbishop of Los Angeles, who consistently and repeatedly let O’Grady get away with it.
This isn’t a fun movie, no, but it sure is compelling, having been expertly put together by first-time filmmaker Amy Berg. Her style is restrained, eschewing sensationalism and leaving herself out of the story. There is no narrator, no guerrilla-style ambushes of unsuspecting subjects, and no off-screen interviewers heard asking questions. Though the people involved are emotional, the movie itself is admirably dispassionate, Berg’s directorial choices subtle. I smiled when I noticed that we don’t actually see O’Grady’s face until the fifth or sixth time he appears onscreen, which any horror-film director will tell you is the best way to underscore the monster’s scariness.
O’Grady is a genuinely spine-tingling figure. Now defrocked, he openly admits his numerous crimes against children — mostly young girls, not boys, which makes his case particularly interesting — committed over the course of three decades. What’s chilling is that while he repeatedly expresses remorse, he doesn’t SEEM sorry. He remains disconnected from his crimes, even glib about them, apparently unable or unwilling to grasp their enormity.
He writes letters of apology to his victims, which could be admirable — yet he is almost jolly in the writing of them, going so far as to invite the now-adult victims to come visit him and share their feelings face-to-face, like he’s holding a tea party or something. He genuinely believes that writing a letter should be all that’s needed to make everything better. He acts like his streak of nearly unpardonable atrocities makes him nothing more than a mischievous kid, a Bugs Bunny “ain’t I a stinker?” sort of miscreant.
Interspersed with O’Grady’s testimony are interviews with some of his victims and their families, which make clear the deep and lasting scars that O’Grady left on their psyches. As craven as O’Grady is, these fractured Catholics are inspiringly courageous, willing to discuss what happened to them and to publicly fight for reform in the way the church deals with deviant priests.
In each case, the families were devout Catholics who opened their homes to O’Grady and trusted their children with him. Now, years later, they feel devastated at how their faith in the church has been shattered. One observer points out that to Catholics, when a priest consecrates the holy communion, he is one with Jesus Christ. To have such a man then commit the crimes O’Grady is guilty of is understandably disillusioning.
Maybe the most heartbreaking family in the film are the Jyonos, parents Bob and Maria and daughter Ann. Bob and Maria were ardent defenders of O’Grady when accusations began to emerge, having known and loved him years earlier when he was in their parish. Then Bob asked Ann, now an adult, if O’Grady ever had this kind of contact with her when she was young. She finally broke her silence and confessed that he had. Recounting this now, years later, Bob Jyono’s interview is rawly emotional. He’s angry at O’Grady for raping his 10-year-old daughter, angry at the church for enabling him, heartsick at how his own faith has lapsed. It’s wrenching to watch. It should be used in court when Cardinal Mahony goes on trial for covering up O’Grady’s crimes.
Ah, yes. Cardinal Mahony. O’Grady is an unsettling sociopath with a shaky grasp on reality. Mahony, meanwhile, is a scheming, duplicitous liar who understands reality very well and has sought to obfuscate it. You come out of the film shaking your head in disbelief at O’Grady, but fully enraged at Mahony.
Mahony became bishop of the Stockton, Calif., diocese in 1980, making him O’Grady’s superior. Mahony’s late predecessor, Merlin Guilfoyle, had several years earlier covered up an O’Grady-related scandal by promising to put the errant priest in a monastery. Instead, he simply moved him to a new parish.
Mahony took Guilfoyle’s policy of deceit and denial to a whole new level. In 1984, a Stockton family went to the police over their daughter’s allegations that O’Grady had molested her. Mahony kept O’Grady out of jail and the story out of the papers by promising the police department that O’Grady would never preside over a parish or have contact with children again. Mahony’s next step? He transferred O’Grady to a city 50 miles away, putting him in charge of a parish with lots of kids in it. In fact, while O’Grady had only been an associate pastor before, he was now a full pastor: Mahony PROMOTED him. And in his new parish, O’Grady continued to harm the children in his care.
In videotape of a 2004 deposition, Mahony is asked whether a priest’s confessing he has sexual urges for children is grounds for booting him from the priesthood. Mahony says no.
Berg, who has a background in TV news production, evidently tried to get the Catholic Church’s side of the O’Grady and Mahony story. Not surprisingly, the church declined comment. O’Grady speaks for himself, and quite candidly, though the euphemisms he uses — “overly affectionate,” and so forth — are stunning understatements of the truth. The victims make it much clearer: He didn’t just touch or fondle them; he had sexual intercourse with them.
Experts in the film make some insightful points about the church’s adherence to the non-biblical doctrine of celibacy and how it fosters this kind of deviance in priests. In the minds of some priests, with all sex considered bad, pedophilia is just another kind of “bad sex.” There’s also the point that many of these men began their seminary training when they were 14 or 15 — no wonder, then, that their sexual development seems to have stopped there.
I don’t know what the Catholic Church will do to root out the devils in its ministry. I don’t know what will happen to O’Grady and Mahony, at least not in this life. (I have some theories about the afterlife.) But “Deliver Us from Evil” is the most damning piece of evidence I’ve seen, irrefutable proof that something must be done. Every Catholic leader should see this movie.
A- (1 hr., 41 min.; )