I have seen plenty of movies over the years but off the top of my head, I cannot remember one as painful, wounding or angry as first-time director Amy Berg’s powerful and timely documentary “Deliver Us From Evil.” Inspired by stories that she worked on as a producer for “60 Minutes”and CNN about the ever-growing scandal involving pedophile priests in the Catholic church, Berg gives us a heartbreaking story that will touch and anger viewers of all faiths.The film centers on Father Oliver O’Grady, a former priest in the Catholic Church in California whose merry grin and lilting Irish accent makes him seem like the perfect Central Casting image of what such a person should look and sound like. However, we soon learn the darkness lurking beneath that cheery facade as he tells us, in a series of genially horrifying interviews that veer between grotesque candor and equally grotesque evasion, how used his position of trust to sexually abuse children for over three decades. We are also treated to agonizing interviews with some of those whose lives he helped to destroy by his actions–both the children he abused and the families whose faith in the church was shaken both by O’Grady’s behavior and the refusal of church officials to do anything about it for nearly two decades other than to shift him from one parish to another (usually no more than 50 miles away from his previous posting) without informing anyone about his proclivities.
What is interesting about the film is that while O’Grady is arguably one of the creepiest people to ever voluntarily step foot in front of a camera (at one point, in his relatively cushy exile in Ireland, he cheerfully writes to some of his victims in the hopes that they will come to visit him and accept his empty apologies), Berg’s real anger is directed at the Church itself, especially Cardinal Roger Mahoney, the man who, it is revealed, knew all about the crimes being committed under his watch and who essentially allowed them to happen rather that spark a scandal by reporting them. While it could be argued that O’Grady is a deeply sick man whose unspeakable actions were governed by the urges of a screwed-up mind, the Church’s behavior was driven by a sense of greed and self-interest that came at the expense of those they were supposed to be serving. It should be noted that no representative of the church chose to be interviewed by Berg for the film but the fumbling testimony that we see Mahoney and others give in court is so damning that even the most devout may be shocked by the craven ways in which they try to weasel out of their complicity.“Deliver Us From Evil” is not an easy movie to watch by any means but those willing to stomach it will be rewarded with one of the most harrowing and unforgettable documentaries in recent years.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Film Festival series, click here.