Deliver Us from Evil by Amy Berg is a documentary that uses the specifics of one priest, Oliver O’Grady, to represent the general problem of child sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church.
The plot covers ground familiar to anyone who has followed the abuse stories that began in the 80’s and became a flood in the late 90’s. Each time someone accused Fr. O’Grady of inappropriate sexual activity, the bishop would just move him and not warn the new parish. He was moved 4 times before he was finally arrested and convicted. He spent 7 years in jail and then returned to his native Ireland where he is a free man today.
In addition to interviews with him (which were creepy and I will discuss below), the documentary interviewed 3 victims and their families where possible. It also showed taped depositions by O’Grady and two bishops responsible for his transfers. Finally, they use the brilliant Fr. Tom Doyle who is an attorney in addition to being a priest. He is an outspoken advocate for the abused.
One last piece of plot summary before I get to the analysis. There is a point where Mr. O’Grady wrote letters to several abuse victims asking them to come to Ireland to confront him. After sealing an envelop he says: “Godspeed. I hope to see you real soon.” If that doesn’t make you want to toss your cookies then your stomach is made of a tougher metal than mine.
I’ve covered material before that I’ve called gay for straight or gay for gay. Obviously what I mean by this is that if it is gay for gay, most straight people will either be bothered by it or just not understand it. Deliver Us from Evil is Catholic for Catholic, I’m afraid. You might think that child sexual abuse was something that could be universally ‘understood’ and probably universally reviled; but in the reality of this documentary it really isn’t. In this case, the audience for it is more limited than it if was more Catholic for other.
Still, what can be understood are the pain of the victims and the total creepiness of Mr. O’Grady. It is one thing to be sexually abused by a relative or a friend of the family. The scars are deep, but the child can understand that they can escape it at some level and the hurt is of strain A, say. When the abuser is a minister, the child can feel far more trapped and even potentially damned. The child can see how revered the priest is, know they will likely not be believed and that if they tell they may be condemned to Hell. Scars here run deeper because they are far harder to run from; call this strain B.
With regards to Catholics, strain B is particularly troublesome. For one thing, the parents who are suspicious or may even know for certain, they go to the bishop, not the police. So these matters are handled outside of the criminal and civil law and subjected only to the whims of the bishop. Believing that the bishops would make a proper decision things often stopped there. It was only later that some of these families discovered that the offending priest was just moved to a different parish and not under any supervision.
The film covers the attempt by two of the abuse victims to discuss their concerns with the Vatican. Predictably the Church refused to see them and refused to allow anyone in the Vatican to be interviewed. There is basically a very simple reason why.
I followed this story mainly via NPR and a bit through the New York Times and Vanity Fair. And one thing I noticed was that the men being accused were still just priests. Bishops, Monsignors, Archbishops, Cardinals and even the Pope all started out as priests. Some stayed in monasteries which would have meant little contact with the outside world; but for the vast majority of these men, they were in charge of the pulpit and the confessional from time to time during any given week.
This problem cannot just reside at the level of priests. So when you see a bishop or cardinal, or even the Pope, (for me anyway) there is the question in the front of my mind if there was molestation or a secret liaison with an adult of either gender. Adults can consent, so there is really no issue here with regards to the general law, just canon law. Children cannot consent so it needs to be a matter of criminal law long before it becomes a matter for canon law. Still, since the scandal hit the general public, how many of us began to look at the hierarchy and wonder how many of them had done the same things as the priests who were now under scrutiny?
Cardinal Law was the official who fought viciously to defend the priests under his aegis to the point of referring to the victims as greedy people. He refused to do anything about it and was eventually moved to a post in the Vatican so that the Holy See could put an end to the nearly daily protests against the man. I have to question his motives; what did he have to hide that he fought so hard to defend priests. Given that pedophilia was an open secret in the priesthood, there is no way to accept that he just refused to believe it.
The interviews with O’Grady are literally nauseating. For one thing, he says that the abuse shouldn’t have happened, duh. But the reason he gives will chill your blood. He says that the Church should have done more about it. He passes the blame and responsibility to the Church and seems to refuse to take the responsibility on himself. If he cannot see that he did anything wrong, how do we know he hasn’t been up to the same tricks in Ireland?
Psychologically there is a reason why he would think this and it makes him all the more creepy. There is a psychological separation (not a legal one) between a child molester/rapist and a pedophile. The molester’s crime is more one of power than it is sex, as it is with a standard rapist. The psychology of the pedophile is very different. They see what they are doing as helping the child or as a form of play instead of something that is damaging. The example psychologists use to explain the difference is this: a child is raped; the rapist will have a ‘so what’ or ‘tell me the details’ attitude; the pedophile would be horrified at the information and seek to comfort the child. It is possible to change the psychopathology of the rapist; as yet there is no known effective treatment for the true pedophile. Watching the facial expressions of O’Grady will give you an indication of why.
I feel slimy now. I need to go take a bath.
What did you think of this review?