On Deliver Us From Evil

I watched this documentary the other night and certainly found it disturbing, though not always for the reasons intended by filmmaker Amy Berg. The film chiefly concerns the sexual abuse of children by Oliver O’Grady, an Irish priest who was shuffled from one parish to another in California from the 1970s and into the 1990s, and three victims in particular, as well as their families. The sheer number of those victimized by O’Grady, reputed to be in the hundreds, if not more, is mind boggling, and the depravity described by some of those victims is extremely difficult to hear. The evils committed by O’Grady are almost incomprehensible, as is the apparent handling of him both in the course of his career in California and in the aftermath of his arrest, imprisonment, and release. Whatever problems I have with the film are not meant in any way to mitigate the awfulness of these crimes.

But it’s still a screed, or the cinematic equivalent of one. And that’s too damn bad, because the victims themselves deserve better. This claim can be justified. One reason is simply the number of unsupported claims that are thrown out in the course of the movie: 100,000+ victims of sexual abuse; it’s not just that the number is high, but unsubstantiated. The John Jay College Report report puts the number at closer to 10,000, which, yes is still mind boggling – but therein lies the problem. When the facts themselves are so awful, why the need to increase them tenfold?

Another is that PBXVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was personally in charge of looking into charges of sexual abuse during the time Grady’s crimes were committed. This makes for great ‘kill’ shots of the pope that seem to indict the entire church, but if it’s true that being in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes him responsible, the producers should back that up with something more than a voice-over claiming it to be true. As it is, this looks like pure defamation.

Tom Doyle is shown working steadfastly on behalf of the victims, and because of his work one wants to give him a pass on some of the claims he makes. But saying that the Church is “monarchical” struck me as awfully prejudicial, and the idea that in the mind of the church archbishops are more important than lay members is patently false. The remark reveals the man as simplistic at best, but more likely confused, perhaps with a hidden agenda of his own. As with the number juggling, Mahoney (the bishop in question) looks bad enough in his own deposition (and who can tell how that was edited?) without resorting to character assasination.

It’s only a blurb on the DVD case, but to call the scandal a “1600-year-old cover-up” (referring to the claim that a celibate priesthood has only been required since 400, and that this requirement is the sole reason for paedophilia within the church) struck me as blatant reach for fans of the Da Vinci Code. Worse, the scenes in which O’Grady is interviewed in his safe haven and shown writing letters of invitation to his victims to come visit him in Ireland so as to talk things over are pure manipulation. This is only my conjecture, but I have a hard time believing this was wholly O’Grady’s idea. Even if it was, how can someone, even a prejudiced filmmaker, stand by and allow this to happen?

What happened to the victims at the hands of the sick pedophile O’Grady is horrible. Their further manipulation in front of Berg’s camera is unconscionable.

Comments

  1. Rufus McCain says

    Excellent critique, Quin. This ought to be published somewhere beyond our humble little blog. Godspy? First Things? NYT? Nice work.

  2. The Ironic Catholic says

    I agree with Rufus–this is a VERY good piece. I’d float it at Godspy. First Things and Commonweal or America wouldn’t be a bad idea either (this critique transcends political camps).

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