Plot Synopsis: Moving from one parish to another in Northern California during the 1970s, Father Oliver O'Grady quickly won each congregation's trust and respect. Unbeknownst to them, O'Grady was a dangerously active pedophile that Church hierarchy, aware of his predilection, had harbored for over 30 years, allowing him to abuse countless children. Juxtaposing an extended, deeply unsettling interview with O'Grady himself with the tragic stories of his victims, filmmaker Amy Berg bravely exposes the deep corruption of the Catholic Church and the troubled mind of the man they sheltered.
A devastating investigation into the pedophilia scandals tearing apart the Catholic Church, Deliver Us From Evil begins by looking into one priest, Father Oliver O'Grady, who agreed to be interviewed by journalist/filmmaker Amy Berg. O'Grady's genial calm is at first ingratiating, until he begins to describe his crimes with an unsettling sociopathic detachment. But O'Grady's blithe interview is only half of the story, as the documentary also unveils how church superiors covered up O'Grady's crimes and shuffled him from diocese to diocese in northern California, finally placing him in an unsupervised position of authority in a small town, where he sexually assaulted dozens of children; the video deposition of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney is a grotesque portrait in brittle denial. What makes Deliver Us From Evil crucial viewing, however, are the remarkable interviews with a few of the victims (now adults) and their parents, whose stories are wrenching and riveting. With the support of a priest seeking to reform the church, two of the victims actually go to the Pope, seeking some form of help in addressing O'Grady's crimes. This stunningly potent documentary combines raw feeling with lucid and persuasive discussions of the reasons for--and disturbing breadth of--this crisis within the Church. --Bret Fetzer
The true story of the most notorious pedophile priest in the modern history of the Catholic church.
By Michael Atkinson
IFC News, May 14, 2007
["Deliver Us from Evil," Lionsgate, 2006]
The decision to make a documentary — which even today is almost always a personal decision, not a corporate one — is contingent on a number of things, but arguably foremost among them is the sense that your subject matter will produce honest-to-God fireworks. Being politically relevant or socially informative is hardly enough; you want human explosions and earthquakes, even if they're the subtle, ironic variety found in politicking docs like Rachel Boynton's "Our Brand Is Crisis" and Laura Poitras's "My Country, My Country," to pick just two recent examples. I'm not talking about psychodramatics in the film itself, but the sense of appalled outrage you as the audience experience when a film explores material ordinary passed over by the mass media, in depth and with attention the media never musters. (That's what non-fiction film is for, no?) Still, no new-ish documentary will set fire to your house quite like Amy Berg's "Deliver Us from Evil." Only one contemporary non-fiction topic will boil the blood faster than pedophilia (as it did in "Capturing the Friedmans"), and that is, in a far-too-fervently Christian nation, pedophilia as it has been perpetrated and enabled by the Catholic Church.
Berg pulls the mother of all documentary tropes — getting the guilty monster at the core of her controversy to not only cooperate with the film but to virtually assist in its making. Gaining the complicity of the morality-challenged makes for jaw-dropping cinema, just as it has since 1975's "The California Reich" and its dumbfounded portrait of all-American neo-Nazis. Why would these people — be they pedophiles, politicians, fascists or just plain assholes — consent to a documentary crew shining a camera light on their actions? Perhaps it's ego, or perhaps they often assume the default power of the Stockholm syndrome, which did in fact muddy the inquisitive waters, for example, of Ellen Perry's "The Fall of Fujimori," enjoying as it did hanging in exiled plutocrat Alberto Fujimori's limo a little too much. But that's the exception, and even Perry's film emerged as something Fujimori, if he didn't already have far larger problems, should have regretted.
In Berg's remarkable film, the still-at-large ex-priest Oliver O'Grady speaks frankly and even engagingly about his sexual hunger for small children, and the literal decades he spent as a working clergyman in California, molesting, raping and sodomizing preadolescents as young as nine months. A kindly, soft-spoken, even leprechaun-ish Irishman, O'Grady is a walking cognitive dissonance — he is in demeanor as far from a sneaky, creepy sex ogre as you could imagine. But there's no getting around his relaxed shamelessness, or his actions, which are so universally abhorred by every culture on Earth that only within the rotten, power-mad bell jar of the Catholic Church could they be tolerated and even ignored. Which is what happened: Berg's real story is in tracing exactly how O'Grady's crimes were covered up by the Church, how he was bounced from parish to nearby parish for years, and how various archbishops — and even the current Pope, in his old administrative role in the Vatican — conspired to minimize the damage O'Grady wrought after the victims began speaking out.
The gone-public victims, all grown adults now, are appropriately lost in their own landscapes; the father of one, an aging Japanese-American man howling in recrimination, can barely keep the lid clamped on his furnace of rage. But somehow more stinging is the thorough case erected by the filmmaker and various activists (some of them ex-priests) around the utter self-defensive turpitude with which the Catholic Church, at almost every level, behaved in regards to O'Grady and thousands of predators just like him. The Church comes out of the facts bearing the ethical integrity of a corporation grown fat on the ruined lives of its customers — in other words, as demonstratively criminal. Where's the lawyer bringing it to The Hague?