October 16, 2006
Deliver Us From Evil
A new documentary called Deliver Us From Evil about the Catholic priest sexual abuse cases just came out, and after watching it I was up all night thinking about this situation and what a horrifying mess it is. The movie focuses on one of the worst cases of institutional corruption to come out when these stories broke four years ago--Father Oliver O'Grady, who was moved from parish to parish around northern California, molesting dozens of children over two decades.
Three of O'Grady's victims, now adults, participated in the movie and talked about how their abuse has impacted their lives. But the most devastating segments of the movie are probably the interviews with parents, who were very close to O'Grady for years, invited him to their home many times for dinner and overnight stays, and let their sons and daughters go on trips alone with him. They trusted their parish priest implicitly, and even supported him when allegations started coming out, so their feelings of betrayal and rage are massive.
There's not much in the way of new information in the movie, but the personal stories are compelling, as are the interviews with the local bishop (now cardinal) who clearly knew what was going on with O'Grady, and continued to move him to new parishes when reports of abuse started up. The most illuminating interviews are those with theologians and canon lawyers, who describe the Catholic church and its role as intermediary between parishioners and God himself, the concept of grace that is accessible only via going to Mass and receiving communion, and the power that this bestows on priests and the entire hierarchy of the church. If you're a good Catholic, you need your parish priest in order to follow all the rituals of religious practice. And if that priest is raping your kids, well, you can imagine what this does to people's faith in the church.
All human institutions can be corrupted by power-hungry people who care more about their own success than the people they're meant to be responsible to, but when you're talking about kids getting raped and people's core spiritual beliefs getting shredded, it's a lot more gut-wrenching than Enron.
Another interesting thing about these stories is that the priest in question, who went to prison for 7 years, now lives a free and unrestricted life in his native Ireland. He participated extensively in the movie, and discusses what he did and how he felt about it in a seemingly open and reflective way. But he also downplays his own responsibility for his crimes, and he has clearly thought a lot more about his own struggles and mistakes than how his actions have ruined dozens of other people's lives. He seems to have agreed to do the movie mostly out of a desire to keep control over his own story and image. In one particularly sick, manipulative gesture, he even sends letters to some of his victims, inviting them to come and talk with him about everything that happened, as though venting their feelings to the sadistic psycho who raped them as children is going to help. They read the letters together and are like, "are you kidding me?"
Of course, an interviewer asks O'Grady the inevitable question towards the end of the movie: "Did a priest ever touch you inappropriately when you were a boy?" Yep, a priest sure did, and so did O'Grady's older brother. O'Grady went to prison and was defrocked; his victims are still all messed up and will be dealing with this for the rest of their lives; but O'Grady was a victim, too, even if he can't articulate how his own abuse made him into the compulsive rapist he is. In this way, the movie reminded me of another great documentary Capturing the Friedmans (which ADM wrote about in 2003.) There's no doubt in Deliver Us From Evil that the abuse really did happen, but both movies are about the confusion about how and to whom justice is served, and how there can be an unclear distinction between criminal and victim. Nothing happened to the cardinals and monsignors who knew what was going on, protected the abusers, and let them continue attacking kids.
The offical site has a map of clergy abuse, with the number of accused priests detailed for each diocese all over the country. LA still takes first place at 247; Boston has 208. The movie is playing only in NY, Boston, and LA, but opens in more cities over the next few weeks.
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