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A pedophile priest, in his own words

`Deliver Us From Evil' roils Ireland. Mahony is characterized critically.

February 17, 2007|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

"Deliver Us From Evil," a documentary about pedophile priest Oliver O'Grady and his devastating California legacy, has earned its filmmaker multiple awards and an Oscar nomination. Now the film is kicking up new controversy and litigation from L.A. to Ireland, where O'Grady now lives.

Released in the U.S. last fall, "Deliver Us From Evil" details the 20-year swath of abuse that Irish native O'Grady cut through the Stockton area from 1971 to his arrest in 1993, and it concludes that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, then the bishop of Stockton, knew of the molestations but transferred and promoted O'Grady anyway.

The film features O'Grady giving director Amy Berg what he calls "the most honest confession of my life." Its cinematic success is not only calling renewed attention to Mahony but also motivating more victims in the U.S. and Ireland to come forward with civil lawsuits as well as criminal allegations that could land O'Grady in prison in Ireland, where there is no statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. The film has already turned him into a national pariah there, recognized on the street, hounded by reporters and well-known to police.

"Deliver Us From Evil," which has been front-page news in Ireland since Lionsgate Films premiered it in Los Angeles last summer, will gets its first major Irish screening today at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Irish advocates for victims of child sex abuse say O'Grady's candor in the film has made him vulnerable to vigilantism, and they worry that the film's release in Ireland may, at the very least, drive him into hiding again. The 61-year-old has moved four times in two years, and a cellphone number he answered in October is no longer in service. Last fall, O'Grady told Berg he was somewhat relieved to confess on film but was also braced for the inevitable backlash it would bring.

Legacy of abuse

O'Grady first left Ireland for Central California in August 1971. He served parishes in Stockton, Lodi, Turlock and San Andreas. The former priest was arrested in 1993, convicted of 21 counts of child sex abuse and served seven years in Mule Creek State Prison near Sacramento. A jury in 1998 awarded two of O'Grady's victims a record-total $30-million judgment, which later was reduced to $7 million. The new lawsuits -- one filed by an American man, the other to be filed by an Irishman -- are being pursued in San Joaquin County, but both name as defendants the Diocese of Stockton as well as the Irish Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly. The Irish archdiocese first trained O'Grady for the priesthood, and the plaintiffs, who both say they were abused by O'Grady, contend that Irish church officials knew he was a pedophile before they ordained him and sent him to California.

In December, a California judge denied the U.S. plaintiff the legal jurisdiction to sue the Irish archdiocese. That decision is being appealed. Attorneys for the Irishman say they will file suit by the end of the month.

Stockton attorney Larry Drivon, who tried the 1998 case that sent O'Grady to prison and has been involved in 425 clergy abuse cases in California, said that, although the film isn't likely to influence new litigation, it presented a damning portrait of Mahony. At the same time, he said, the movie reinforces the public understanding of clergy abuse and will encourage victims to report it more often.

"I believe that there are children yet to be born who will never be molested because of the impact that this movie will have," he said.

In the film, O'Grady says he was himself sexually abused by clergy and that he repeatedly, over decades, reported his attraction to children to his superiors.

Yet O'Grady was never removed from service despite reports of his abuse that came from police, counselors and parishioners in Stockton, Lodi and Turlock. Instead, he was transferred and promoted.

The film details how, as bishop of Stockton, Mahony inherited O'Grady, who had admitted years earlier to molesting an 11-year-old girl. In 1984, he sent O'Grady for evaluation to a local psychiatrist, who said the priest had a "severe defect in maturation" and suggested that "perhaps Oliver is not truly called to the priesthood." Still, Mahony promoted O'Grady to serve as pastor of a rural parish, where he molested three victims.

In a 2004 videotaped deposition, portions of which are included in the film, Mahony said he knew nothing of the abuse, only reports of O'Grady's attraction to children. Mahony goes on to state that a priest would not automatically be removed from duty for expressing sexual urges toward a 9-year-old.

Portrayal disputed

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