Can Amy Berg Deliver Us From Evil?

Maui Time | October 18, 2006
Amy Berg's riveting, persuasive, and brave documentary about Father Oliver O'Grady, "the most notorious pedophile in the history of the modern Catholic Church," is more frightening than any horror movie you have ever seen. We are gradually introduced to O'Grady in candid interviews and filmed depositions that reveal the hidden depths of the monster's dark depravity that allowed him to molest, rape, and offend hundreds of children across Northern California with the complicit assistance of the Catholic Church. The Church is exposed as an all-powerful cult that knowingly protects pedophile priests that have molested, and continue to molest, tens of thousands of children around the world. When some of O'Grady's victims (one raped when she was nine-months-old) speak candidly about the abuse that they suffered and the long-term traumatic effects, the film becomes a desperate plea for immediate action against the religious institution and its endemic corruption. “Deliver Us From Evil" has already prompted new legal attention in Los Angeles toward Cardinal Roger Mahony who allowed more than 550 priests under his jurisdiction to molest children without punishment.

I spoke with documentarian Amy Berg by telephone.

CS: I noticed in the New York Times recently that your film has attracted legal interest against Arch Bishop of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony.

AB: Yeah, the climate is very volatile there right now.

The way that I understand what's happening in Los Angeles is that the Deputy District Attorney Bill Hogman has been trying to get the documents delineating what the Cardinal knew about reassignments of priests who were accused of molesting children. The Cardinal and the church have been fighting this process for four years now. They've been using the appeals system and court system to not turn over documents, and they've lost every single time, but they've continued to appeal. So, finally the U.S. Supreme Court demanded that they turn over the documents, and that happened in May. Now, the District Attorney is slowly getting the documents with all of the information that the church has been denying.

We've done investigations on police reports, complaints from parents, and back-door settlements that have happened. When you add it all together, it doesn't very good for the Cardinal, just like it didn't look good for Cardinal Law in Boston.

CS: I understand that there were 550 bishops and priests under Cardinal Mahony that molested children.

AB: There were between 600 and 800 claims against the L.A. church.

CS: You mention in the movie that fewer than 80% of these cases are ever reported.

AB: Right. The statue of limitations expires -- that's one excuse, but I think the percentage of the people not reporting sexual abuse is still in the seventies, like 74%. But they say that this is even higher because the shame that is connected with a clergy member abusing them, and the fear of god that was put into the victim, make it even more devastating for a victim to come forward. I got that from the Survivors' Network for those Abused by Priests [S.N.A.P.]. Basically, what David Clohessy [national advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse] told me is that, when a priest is identified as a molester, most of his victims will never say anything because they feel relieved that someone said it, and then they don't have to go do it. S.N.A.P. has done such a good job of getting it out there, but they really want to be able to reach all of the victims.

CS: How did you come to the issue, and what kind of effect has it had on you?

AB: Well, the last big story for CNN was a story about Cardinal Mahony. It named three priests that he was actively involved in transferring even though they all had police reports. It turned out to be a pretty intensive story. Oliver O'Grady was one of them, and because he was convicted there were so many public documents accessible on him. I just felt like I didn't have enough time to get into the story as far as I wanted to go. I was able to get his [O'Grady's] phone number, and I don't know what I expected. I had met a couple of pedophile priests in the past, doing these kind of stories, and been told to go away. They didn't want to say anything.

When I called him, he was very candid on the phone right away. He had a lot to say, and felt comfortable to share it with me. He didn't agree to go on camera, but for five months he allowed me to tape phone conversations. And that's what I did, and finally he decided that he would participate in the film, and that was something that had never been done before, and I wanted to do it.

CS: Is he still with the Catholic Church in any capacity?

AB: No, he's been defrocked, which is maybe why he speaks more candidly. I think that a lot of these priests are afraid they are going to lose their pensions. They still are so influenced by Mahony and the Church that they keep quiet. But that wasn't the case with Oliver O'Grady.

CS: What was it like interviewing Oliver O'Grady?

AB: Well, I was only there for a week and the full interview happened in that week. I just looked at it like it was one of the most serious interviews I was ever going to do. I was really organized and really focused, and I didn't take any of it personally. I asked him questions, let him answer, and asked him some more questions, let him say what he wanted to say. At the end of the day, we unplugged, all went our separate ways, and then we regrouped again the next morning.

CS: He's so candid, and the astonishing thing to me is that you really get to understand the depth of his deception and the way that he deceives himself and others.

AB: You get that through his very manipulative sweet style that he uses to prey on people. We didn't see the monster. It wasn't the appropriate context for that -- obviously. But I did see him experiencing a lot of fear in his day-to-day environment, which I tried to capture through his mannerisms. He was very insecure and kind of uneasy if he's not talking. He tries to find something to talk about.

CS: It's pretty upsetting at the end of the movie to think that he is walking around in Ireland without his neighbors knowing his history.

AB: Well, they do especially since this film has been getting publicity. It's all over the Irish press. He's moved twice since we started shooting.

CS: We're here talking about the film before its release. What has been the early reaction, and who has seen it?

AB: We premiered at the LA Film Festival, so we played two screenings there with probably about a thousand people total. It was a really great response there. People were so inspired and angry. Those people are not the people that will make a difference in the Catholic Church, but we'll see when it opens how people are going to be interested in this and what they might do. There's been a lot of publicity, and the word has spread about the film.

CS: Have any of the higher-ups in the Catholic Church seen the film yet?

AB: Yes, they've been slamming me a lot lately. We had a private screening for the Church before we premiered at the LA Film Festival. I don't know who they all were. Los Angeles Archdiocese Spokesman Todd Tamberg was there. They'e been saying, "it's an anti-church hit-piece," and "it's obviously slanted," and "the 'so-called' documentary."

CS: One thing that comes through very strongly in the movie is how effective the Catholic Church is in covering up these kinds of crimes, to a point of representing a “cult" ideology.

AB: Well, I guess it feels like a cult. John Manley says that in the movie. I don't know. That's a strong word. It feels like the brainwashing power of the Church over the families and the priests who are abusing, and the priests who don't say anything, is very strong. If that's a cult -- I don't know -- maybe. It seems like that's the definition of a cult. I know that families, when their child has come forward, have not spoken to them because they spoke out against a priest, instead of saying, "Oh my God, that happened to you?"

I know that Case De Groot [Former Catholic priest now Pastor], had a really rough time in the Church when he tried to insist that Oliver get regular therapy in the beginning of his career. He was told by the Church to "stay out of it," so he stayed out of it, and now he has some form of Alzheimer's disease. Many people who know him say, "When you have to hide secrets like that, this is how it reacts on your brain." Now, that could be an extreme response but he was clearly someone who wanted to make some changes. He ended up leaving the church and getting married because he couldn't stay in the confines of that organization.

CS: The number of victims is in the hundreds of thousands at any given moment. Is this something that began when the Church adopted this vow of celibacy?

AB: That was in four A.D. Apparently there was a lot of this type of debauchery -- I hope that's the right word to use -- when the Church was losing a lot of its property to widows and children. They decided to insist that everyone was celibate at that point in order to maintain the power and the control of the Church. So, the reason for celibacy is not a holy or spiritual reason. It changes the whole way we look at the situation. It's a business decision. It's not a spiritual decision.

CS: It's significant that in the film you interview several of O'Grady's victims and family members. How were you able to get them to participate in the film?

AB: Well, it was trust. It was talking to them and allowing them to say where they were comfortable going. I spent a lot of time working with them. There were many interviews that we did with the families. We spent a good year with them, and it was difficult coming back from Ireland having already interviewed their perpetrator. But they were able to look past that and look at the overall good of the story, which I think makes them even more commendable.

CS: Do you see a way that this endemic abuse can be stopped?

AB: I think it's the same as with any corporation. The people who were responsible for abusing and covering it up should be accountable. Whatever that means, they should be accountable. Then I think you could probably instill some more trust in the Church and the people that go there. What's happening in Los Angeles is a very positive thing because, I think, Mahony has become the focus of a lot of people's anger because nobody understands how he has gotten away with it. So, I think you clean something like that up and people then have faith in the system again.

Maui Time

Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 33 N. Market St., Suite 201, Wailuku, HI 96793
  • Phone: (808) 244-0777