Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Movie Review: "Deliver Us From Evil"

Directed by Amy Berg
Official Web site

Taking on a wide ranging and controversial subject such as pedophilia in the clergy is the bold subject matter covered in writer-director Amy Berg’s quietly devastating documentary, “Deliver Us From Evil.” But rather than attempt to bite off more than she can chew, Berg manages to find an entry point into the topic through a defrocked priest now living in Ireland, who was convicted of child molestation more than 20 years ago.

As one would expect, Berg is able to interview some victims of the priest, who recount the moments in their life when everything changed for them. But amazingly, Oliver O’Grady, the perpetrator of the crimes, discusses some of his nefarious activities that took place over his many years serving the Catholic Church.

O’Grady now lives a free life in his homeland of Ireland, where he was deported after serving seven years of a 14-year sentence in a California prison. For his part, O’Grady seems to show little, if any, remorse for the crimes he committed. He understands that the wrong that he’s done has devastated many lives, but still believes that perhaps if he and the victims came together again, there could be a “reconciliation.” He suggests this in one sequence where he decides to write some of his victims, inviting them to come visit him as a way for them to heal and move on. Naturally, the victims see the invitation in quite a different light.

The juxtaposition of the victims and the priest is compelling enough subject matter, but the documentary delves deeper into why O’Grady (and likely many priests similar to him) are allowed to continue ministering at other parishes. In O’Grady’s situation, when reports of alleged sexual misconduct (all involving children) came to light among the church hierarchy, he was simply repeatedly moved from one California parish to another. The parishioners were none the wiser of the decisions made by church leaders, with current L.A.-based Cardinal Roger Mahony bearing the brunt of the film’s criticism. The documentary stops short of saying the church was complicit in the actions of O’Grady, but certainly lays out a compelling case that it turned a blind eye to the crimes – and turned its back on the victims.

Aside from deposition testimony, in which Mahony repeatedly said he couldn’t recall certain events taking place, the church leaders are absent from the proceedings. That's because the church declined to participate in the making of the film.

There’s no documented total number of victims presented here, as O’Grady himself isn’t even certain. Chillingly, a portion of his interview takes place near a neighborhood park where children are playing. This is happening as O’Grady describes what kind of children he’s attracted to.

The outrage that viewers are likely to feel about how a serial sex offender is free to roam the streets is best expressed through Maria and Bob Jyono, a soft spoken elderly couple, whose daughter was repeatedly raped by O’Grady for several years. Describing O’Grady back in the 1970s as a very cordial and caring man, it becomes clear that the families of the children he violated were also victims. They were duped by a person of authority and responsibility who hid a monster inside himself.

A scene where the generally stoic Bob becomes overcome by his rage and sense of betrayal by O’Grady is devastatingly powerful, as is a later scene where he bluntly states his belief that there is no God. To people like the Jyonos, the church’s silence on the well documented problem, which has continued for many years, presents them with a seemingly impossible dilemma. If they can’t turn to God and the church for answers and healing of the pain that has been wrought against them, where do they turn?

It’s an answer that not even this well made and smartly presented documentary can provide.

Grade: A
(Not rated, but contains language and sexual themes.)

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