The recurrent and seemingly never-ending furore surrounding the Catholic Church’s treatment of the victims of clerical abuse raises so many questions. Issues of leadership, accountability, transparency and criminality abound no matter where in the world the abuse has taken place. Take Ireland for example where the Primate, Cardinal Sean Brady, is currently reeling from a sustained media investigation into his handling of a church investigation into the activities of the prolific abuser Brendan Smyth.
In all of this, there is the perennial danger that the victims of clerical abuse become lost in the entire process; their heart-rending stories cry out for justice…..their stories need to be told and their pain acknowledged. But instead, victims are often ignored and marginalized by an institution that appears to care more about protecting itself than doing the right thing and caring for those who have been betrayed.
It is against this backdrop that I recently watched Amy Berg’s documentary film ‘Deliver Us From Evil‘. Berg’s film is difficult to watch as it recounts a harrowing story of child abuse and how a serial child molester evaded justice for the better part of two decades.
The abuser, Oliver O’Grady, was a Catholic priest who served in a number of parishes in Southern California during the 1970s and ’80s. He was also an habitual child molester who abused numerous children entrusted to his care.
Scandalously, O’Grady’s superiors were aware of his crimes as early as 1973, and instead of dealing with his criminal behaviour in the correct manner, they opted to simply move him from one congregation to another. The end result was a trail of ruined lives and emotional devastation that is painful to even contemplate from a distance.
In Deliver Us From Evil, a number of O’Grady’s victims and their families discuss his crimes and the repercussions they feel to this day; their dignity is inspirational and their pain and sense of betrayal is palpable throughout the film.
O’Grady himself appears, speaking candidly about his career as an abuser, often recounting his abhorrent misdeeds in detail. Although he acknowledges his actions, he never actually accepts the gravity of the emotional pain he has caused. At one point for example, he quite outrageously decides to write to some of his victims inviting them to a ‘reunion’ (no I haven’t made this up….) so they can discuss what happened to them. Their response – to be outraged and contemptuous of this disgracefully ill-conceived initiative – is lost on O’Grady; he seems unable to empathize and to understand the results of his actions.
After finally being convicted of child sexual abuse, O’Grady served a number of years in prison, before being deported to Ireland. And that is where the film ends. Unfortunately that deportation did not curtail O’Grady’s activities – he spent time working with children in the Netherlands (under a false name) and was convicted of possessing child pornography by an Irish court and was sentenced to prison.
As well as painting a detailed profile of O’Grady, Berg also offers an insight into the workings of the Catholic Church and how its leadership has often protected wayward priests at the expense of ordinary worshipers.
Deliver Us From Evil was named Best Documentary Feature at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival, and quite rightly so.
Here is the trailer: