Wages of sin

Deliver Us From Evil

Nancy Sloan (center) and Bob and Maria Jyono cope with the legacy of Oliver O’Grady’s abuse.

Nancy Sloan (center) and Bob and Maria Jyono cope with the legacy of Oliver O’Grady’s abuse.

Rated 4.0

With only that wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly way about him, that lilting brogue and impossibly innocent nickname, “Father Ollie” could belong to a forgotten ’50s sitcom. Maybe there his aloofness might seem correct, like culturally approved circumspection or an outward display of steadying faith. But the complete Oliver O’Grady demands a different picture, of a different era, fed up and wised up to what his composure has concealed: a relentless sexual predator who exploited his parishioners for 20 years, leaving a snarl of ruined lives from Turlock to San Andreas.

Now he’s six years out of prison, having served half of a 14-year sentence, “voluntarily” defrocked and deported to Ireland, with the tab for his retirement picked up by the Diocese of Stockton. And, as CNN and 60 Minutes veteran Amy Berg’s excellent documentary Deliver Us From Evil reveals, he wants to talk about it.

Berg obliges, pointing the camera right at him. The gesture is inquisitive, not accusing. She tries several angles, studies O’Grady’s wringing hands, and searches his unnervingly appealing face. Even as his recollections become more and more dissociated—contemplative, but not contrite—she lets him talk. One thing he’s not is reticent, and his interviewer knows that’s worth something.

But what reflective wisdom might a serial rapist of children possibly impart? Does O’Grady have the gall to take Berg or her audience for his confessor? Does he even presume to excuse his patently unholy behavior? That questions beget more questions isn’t problematic for Berg; it’s strategically essential. Clearly she means her movie to be a search, from which the enigma of O’Grady is only the beginning. In that regard, Deliver Us From Evil is a welcome reminder of how investigative documentaries should be done. Neither hectoring nor pandering, it keeps its temper, moving intrepidly forward into increasingly difficult material, at once broadening the view and clarifying it.

Berg also gathers devastatingly raw testimony from several of O’Grady’s victims. Her time with them contains many moments of visceral, terrible clarity. “I still pull over and dry heave,” one woman explains, while driving, of her customary reaction to seeing a car of the same make as the one in which O’Grady molested her. Another woman sits on the couch with her guilt-racked father, who breaks her heart by blurting out that he doesn’t believe in God anymore; in an instant, her face wells with tears and crumples, just from hearing him say it. Arguably these moments are the reasons for making the film in the first place, but Berg’s attention to them isn’t exploitative. She honors the goodwill of faith, the rage at its betrayal and the grief for its loss.

A compassionate view of religiosity is useful, particularly for a film whose logical conclusion is an unsparing attack on a powerful religious institution. Deliver Us From Evil gives voice to many angry and well-founded dissatisfactions with the leadership of the Catholic Church, and compellingly documents a deep dysfunction ingrained within its culture. If Berg seems less willing to treat O’Grady as an easy target, it’s partly because she must contend with the self-evident targets of his scandal-dodging superiors, who exacerbated the man’s pathology and his crimes by knowingly shuttling him between parishes to protect their own positions. With the sputtering, self-incriminating court testimony of Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony, whose reward for shielding O’Grady was a cardinalship, Berg suggests that the most defiling vulgarity is institutional. It is a humane assertion, recognizing that any organization of such rigid hierarchy and aristocratic entitlement will exact a toll in damaged souls.

There are other voices. A clergy-abuse psychologist draws a direct link between pedophilia scandals and church-mandated celibacy. What the aberrant priests seek, she explains, are their “psychosexual peers,” by default, children. Father Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer, historian and victims’ advocate, travels with two of O’Grady’s victims to Rome in order to get the Vatican’s attention. That effort proves futile, but it reveals Doyle as a pillar of strength and good character—just the sort of courageous and reliable role model for which Berg’s bracing movie leaves you yearning.

Maybe Deliver Us From Evil’s best insight is its refusal to gloat about its insights—even as we see the same pathologies playing out in the U.S. Congress, accelerated by the same self-propagating institutional corruption. Instead, Berg’s intuitively right ratio of personal and analytical material, her implied belief in transcendence of horrific demoralization, shows a truly progressive vision.