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A wolf in a cleric's collar

`Deliver Us From Evil' details the far-reaching effects of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest.

October 13, 2006|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

"Deliver Us From Evil" sounds like the title of a horror film, and in a very real sense that's what this wrenching, difficult to watch documentary is.

Written and directed by Amy Berg, "Deliver Us" examines the nightmare of children sexually assaulted by Catholic priests, through the lens of one specific molester and the young people -- now adults -- he has admitted to having systematically abused.

This is an angry film, and with reason. It shows us the pernicious effects Oliver O'Grady, once known as kindly "Father Ollie," had on not only these children but on their once religious parents as well. As one distraught father says, "It destroyed our lives."

The cases examined all took place in California, and "Deliver Us" is perhaps angriest of all at Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and the Catholic hierarchy of the state, which the film claims first ignored and then strove to cover up the problem.

Not for nothing does former Oklahoma Gov. Frank A. Keating, appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to head a review board examining this kind of abuse, say that "the Los Angeles diocese has been less than open, less than honest."

What "Deliver Us" posits is a systematic church pattern of first denying reality and then fleeing from it, a course of action that allowed former priest O'Grady to sexually abuse children of both sexes for more than 20 years in various central California locations.

Whenever O'Grady's actions were exposed by distraught parents in one parish, the film says, he was simply transferred to another where no one knew his history. It was perpetually, one observer said, "a tragedy waiting to happen." Even O'Grady admits on camera, "I should have been removed." Instead he was finally arrested by California police, tried, convicted of "lewd and lascivious" acts and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

There have been strong documentaries on this subject before, most recently Kirby Dick's "Twist of Faith," but this is the first made with the cooperation of the abuser. Deported to Ireland after serving seven years of his sentence, O'Grady was persuaded to cooperate on the film after five months of weekly phone calls from the director.

A man of visible charm, O'Grady is also emotionally disconnected to a pathological degree from the great harm he's done. There's nothing more chilling than hearing him call himself "a people person" in one breath and calmly describe his sexual attacks on children in the next, unless it's having him talk about "how hard it is to keep the ideals of the priesthood in front of me when temptations to satisfying one's own ego present themselves."

Given how strong this kind of testimony is, "Deliver Us From Evil's" decision to hype it more than it needs to be is unfortunate. The film has a weakness for over-dramatization, for unsettling music and portentous close-ups of O'Grady's hands and lips that are distracting and unnecessary.

There is nothing over-dramatic, however, about the deeply painful testimony of the adults who were victimized as children and their still traumatized parents. "He was the closest thing to God that we knew," one mother says. "I let the wolf in through the gate."

Church leaders who should have been protecting children instead of their prerogatives are visible in taped depositions, and watching Mahony, who was bishop in Stockton during the period in question, give a graduate seminar in stonewalling is an education in itself. When abuse survivors' attorney Jeff Anderson talks in general terms of "deception, perjury, denial and deceit at the highest levels of the Catholic Church," it's hard not to agree.


`Deliver Us From Evil'

MPAA rating: Unrated. Contains graphic sexual language describing acts of molestation.

A Lionsgate release. Director Amy Berg. Producers Berg, Frank Donner, Hermas Lassalle, Matthew Cooke. Directors of photography Jacob Kusk, Jens Schlosser. Editor Matthew Cooke. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes.

Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd. (323) 848-3500; Monica, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica (310) 394-9741.

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