by Mel Valentin
Written and directed by first-time documentary filmmaker Amy Berg, "Deliver Us from Evil" examines the connection between the Catholic Church, sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and the decades-long cover-up of sexual abuse by Catholic bishops, cardinals, and the Vatican. Berg, a first-time documentary filmmaker, spent four years investigating the cover-up of pedophilia within the Los Angeles Archdiocese for “30 Minutes” and CNN, but meeting former priest, pedophile and convicted felon Oliver O’Grady, led her to the decision to direct a feature-length documentary, focusing on O’Grady, several of his victims, now adults, and his enablers within the Catholic Church here and abroad.In a surprise move, O’Grady agreed to be interviewed for Deliver Us From Evil. While he seemingly takes responsibility for his actions, his low-key demeanor, awkward smiles, and inappropriate laughter suggest dishonesty, with himself and others. His decision to be interviewed for Deliver Us From Evil comes off as self-serving, manipulative, and chilling in an amoral, sociopathic. Perhaps O’Grady saw the documentary as part of the penance necessary to make amends for his sins (he served seven years of a 14-year sentence in a California penitentiary), but if so, it won’t be enough. Just a few minutes with his victims, now adults, and their families will tell you all that you need to know. Ten, 20, even 30 years later, O’Grady’s victims are still devastated by what he did to them.
"Will make Roman Catholics question their faith."
Berg turns her attention to three victims, Ann Jyono, Nancy Sloan, and Adam M. At forty, Ann is one of O’Grady’s oldest victims. As a young priest from Ireland, O’Grady ingratiated himself with Ann’s parents, Bob and Maria Jyono, who, trusting him and the Catholic Church, allowed him to spend nights at their home. He sexually molested Ann for six years. He next turned his attention to Nancy Sloan. Almost two decades later, he molested Adam. Over the course of twenty years, O’Grady molested dozens of children, male and female. Each time a family reported his behavior to his superiors in the Catholic Church, O’Grady was moved to a different parish where he could begin again. And he did.
O’Grady, however, is only one perpetrator among dozens, perhaps hundreds of Catholic clergy, who sexually abused the children in their charge. Concerned about the potential for debilitating lawsuits, the Catholic Church decided that covering up O’Grady’s behavior, as well as the behavior of other clergy who engaged in pedophilia, was the best financial decision. Berg focuses primarily on Cardinal Roger Mahoney, who, as a bishop was well aware of the reports of O’Grady’s behavior and who authorized O’Grady’s multiple moves. Although Mahoney chose not to participate in the documentary, he appears in videotape testimony he gave during a civil suit against the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Not surprisingly, he claimed ignorance of O’Grady’s behavior, even when confronted with incriminating evidence.
Berg also interviews Mary Gail Frawley O’Dea, psychologist who specializes in clergy abuse. O’Dea doesn’t excuse O’Grady’s behavior, but tries to explain it, tying it to the limited psycho-sexual development and the corrosive effects of celibacy and seminary training. In O’Grady’s case, he entered the seminary in his teens. While O’Dea doesn’t bring up sexual abuse suffered by the pedophilia as a child, O’Grady does, in videotaped testimony offered during a civil trial, presumably against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. If true, it may make him (slightly) more sympathetic, but it does nothing to alleviate his responsibility. O’Grady had multiple chances to change his behavior, but never sought out the help necessary to make that change.
Berg returns to Ann Jyono, Nancy Sloan, and Adam, who, invited by O’Grady for a meeting in Ireland, decide that meeting O’Grady would be counter-productive. Instead, with the help of a Catholic priest and expert on canon law, Thomas Doyle, fly to Rome and Vatican City to deliver a letter of protest to the pope. Guards refuse Ann and Nancy entry. The letter goes undelivered, but Ann and Sloan make CNN. For them, the trip to Rome turns to be less cathartic than they hoped. Given the Catholic Church’s cover up, however, the response was predictable, if no less morally questionable.
Critiquing a documentary that covers difficult material like Deliver Us From Evil isn’t easy, especially considering that Amy Berg succeeds in covering a controversial, easy-to-exploit subject like pedophilia and the Catholic Church. Despite Berg’s restraint, it’s still almost impossible to avoid feeling voyeuristic as Ann, Ann’s parents, and the other victims share their stories with us. The trip to Rome also feels staged. After all, the Vatican’s response could have been easily predicted from their past behavior. In effect, Ann and Nancy are set up, perhaps willingly, to be hurt again.Was the trip to Rome or its depiction onscreen necessary? Probably not, but "Deliver Us From Evil" recovers from that one minor misstep when it returns to O’Grady, a grandfatherly figure strolling through a public park in Ireland. In a chilling note, we learn that O’Grady is a free man, unsupervised by Irish authorities. Thankfully, we also learn that Thomas Doyle is currently working with Irish authorities for that to change. As for O’Grady, the tagline for "Deliver Us From Evil," “For some there's no such thing as salvation,” may sound facile or flippant, but once you get a chance to spend time with O'Grady and Cardinal Roger Mahoney, you end up hoping it’ll come true some day.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15124&reviewer=402
originally posted: 10/26/06 15:17:54