(USA, 2006, d. Amy Berg)
London, March 26, 2007 (SIGNIS/Peter Malone) - Those who watched the telecast of the Academy Awards in February 2007 will have noticed that one of the nominees for Best Feature-length Documentary was Deliver us from Evil. There was a brief clip of a cleric giving video testimony in court. The film did not win. The Oscar went to Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth.
An Inconvenient Truth could have been the title of Deliver us from Evil . The stories of clerical abuse have been with us for more than twenty years, although the wide American focus came as late as 2002. The truth has certainly been inconvenient but it has also been appalling. It has been a call for an examination of conscience for the Catholic church and a call for compassion for the victims of this abuse. The question of how to deal with offending clergy has also been very difficult and has caused many moral, legal and financial problems.
Somebody wisely pointed out that, until the recent revelations, the sexual abuse of minors was not considered by many (most?) people as a crime. It was judged as a sin, certainly, but a sin required different handling from a crime. Events have led the Church to realise that it is dealing with a crime that has police and judicial repercussions not simply a pastoral question as to whether a priest be corrected and moved to another place of ministry hoping that he has repented and will not offend again. The traditional act of contrition may have given rise to the belief that all could be well, easily well if one made strong acts of the will: ‘and I firmly resolve by the help of thy grace never to sin again and amend my life. Amen'. In reality, the abuser of under age minors, especially, has a serious psychological aberrant condition and needs treatment as well as being put out of the way of harm to children.
These themes are explored in Deliver us from Evil , a meticulously made documentary by a director who is not a Christian and is looking at the issues from outside the Church. Clearly, there will be argument about some of the detail included and Amy Berg's interpretation but she sought advice and legal counsel about the truth of the claims made in the film.
The focus of the film is Fr Oliver O'Grady, an Irishman who worked in Northern California, from the 1960s to the 1980s. The film has significant ramifications for the Church today as, prior to his appointment to be archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985, Cardinal Roger Mahoney was auxiliary bishop in Fresno (1975-1980), bishop of Stockton (1980-1985).
Oliver O'Grady emerges from the film as, at least, self-delusional. On the one hand, he admits what he has done. On the other, he cheerfully excuses himself and compartmentalises his behaviour. As a portrait of a priest offending over decades, the film offers an alarming portrait.
In September 2005, the BBC's Panorama program featured Oliver O'Grady. The film-maker, himself a victim of abuse in Ferns, Ireland, asked O' Grady to indicate how he ‘groomed' a young girl for abuse. He cheerfully did so, straight to camera, an astonishing performance (and the BBC, to its discredit, featured this sequence in the promotion of the broadcast as well as including it at the head of the program as well as during it). Fr O'Grady's behaviour and comments as late as 2006 are bizarre and reprehensible.
Deliver us from Evil works dramatically and powerfully. The range of interviews with victims and their parents are placed throughout the film. They have been judiciously selected so that the audience shares the experience of the families, the initial welcome to Fr O'Grady as he took a pastoral interest in them and became firm friends, being invited to meals and becoming part of the family. Families did not realise what was happening to their children. Such behaviour on the part of a priest was unthinkable to most.
As the truth emerged and Fr O'Grady went to different parishes in Northern California, the families were surprised, dismayed and shocked. Their outbursts, especially on the part of one Japanese-American father, are kept to the end so that, dramatically, the audience shares his pain. Some of the victims are also interviewed and tell the sad aspects of their stories.
Along with the chronicle of the history of Fr O'Grady's activities are the testimonies of Cardinal Mahoney and different church officials from Stockton diocese. Since the United States uses videocameras for depositions, the film incorporates footage of the actual questions and answers.
This is where there can be some controversy. The director has selected particular sections - and they sound to the detriment of the churchmen. The cross-examination shows that, as we realise, bishops were not so well informed about the nature of abuse, especially its criminality, and made decisions to move priests around - which resulted in further abuse. On the one hand, one can argue that in retrospect, bishops made poor decisions which resulted in some disastrous behaviour. On the other, we have more clarity now than then and it is easy to be judgmental in looking back. However, what is important is what is to be done now in terms of truth, justice and reparation.
Oliver O'Grady participated in the making of this film. He has been extradited to Ireland after serving his sentence in the US. His behaviour in Ireland, especially in terms of writing to his victims, indicate an erratic personality, and his being something of a showman.
One more alarming aspect of the film is the featuring of Fr Tom Doyle who, since the 1980s and his working in Washington DC and becoming involved in Bishops Conference decisions, has been something of a whistleblower and a friend of victims. He makes some very strong and critical statements during the film which also need examination and attention.
A useful exercise is to look at the Internet Movie Database on line referencing Deliver us from Evil and read the comments posted there by viewers of the film who feel free to offer their opinions for and against. There are some intellectual arguments there, some appeals to emotion, and quite some anger. Googling Oliver O'Grady provides quite a number of entries with information about him and his offences.
More information on www.deliverusfromevilthemovie.com