Oliver O’Grady — charmer, kind neighbor, family friend, pervert — raped dozens of children during his time as a Catholic priest, though it’s believed that he has hundreds of victims, some as young as nine months old. And though he is but one man in an endless sea of scandal for the religious sect most under the gun around the world (that is, until Islam’s push to the top spot after 9/11), he is a striking, perverted symbol of Catholicism’s true legacy for the world. Under the guise of moral absolutism and tradition in the face of modernity, the Catholic Church has knowingly protected, hidden, and even rewarded child molesters in order to maintain its foothold as one of the world’s most lucrative financial empires. It is business (and as a result, power) that pushed child rapists from parish to parish, and allowed official denials and cover-ups to substitute for justice and the very compassion they alleged to be their top concern. And sure, no one guided by intellect is surprised by any of this, but it continues to frustrate non-believers and skeptics alike, as religious leaders remain revered, untouchable figures in most communities. Catholicism, though watered-down in some respects (pure doctrinaires are hard to find), retains its authority over millions of people, leading some to wonder what it would take for followers to close their wallets and leave the faith altogether. Maybe if the Monsignor believed in evolution, or something.
Amy Berg’s Deliver Us from Evil is an angry, punishing film that leaves the church hierarchy in tatters, even if it’s not likely to force the much-needed reassessment of religion itself. And while I’m encouraged by any movie that reveals the corruption and greed of the supposedly holy, such films tend to legitimize the belief that the problem is not with God, or a belief in such, but the very fallible human beings entrusted to carry on “his” mission. It’s sickening to me that the victims of O’Grady, a few of whom we meet along the way, continue to go to church, pray, and engage in age-old rituals, but I’m sure it’s a common response to abuse and betrayal. I wondered why more didn’t react similarly to Bob Jyono, whose daughter was raped by O’Grady years ago. Near the film’s conclusion, he cries, “There is no god…it’s all made up by men…” An agreeable sentiment to be sure, even if he came to his lack of faith after a personal wound, which is the least desirable way to abandon one’s beliefs. I’d prefer an embrace of logic and reason as opposed to a trial by fire, but if he’s on board the atheist train, I can’t exactly complain. But Jyono is an exception, at least here, and it prevents a full connection to these people in a way the filmmaker hopes to inspire. I want crucifixes being tossed in ash cans, not continuing to hold a favored place around believer’s necks.
The most chilling aspect of the documentary is that O’Grady, even years later, appears so unrepentant about his horrible crimes. He uses euphemisms like “incidents” and “inappropriate attention” to minimize brutal exploitation of defenseless young people. Even his depositions are defined by their lack of gravity, as if he’s chatting about the church bingo game rather than lives forever ruined. With a twinkle in his eye — and now safely tucked away in Ireland after his deportation, with a church pension to match — O’Grady walks freely among children, and has no problem admitting that his lone sexual attraction is for the wee ones. And because he has not been required to register as a sex offender or even report for counseling, it is likely that he’ll strike again. In his own mind, he’s slightly apologetic because the norms and values of his time have compelled such regrets, but without any official reprimand, he’d be as likely to believe his actions were guided by the utmost compassion. And that’s the aspect of child rape that is most difficult to understand — in the mind of the rapist, inserting an erect penis into a pre-pubescent vagina or anus is the ultimate act of love, as it involves a man of god and a member of his flock.
And it’s here that the film presents an insight into Catholic doctrine that enhances the church’s status as Christianity’s most appalling sect (with apologies to the nitwits of the Mormon faith). Because sex is a continuum of sin, the rape of a child is, in fact, no worse than intercourse between two consenting adults. An offending priest, then, can confess the deed, be forgiven, and move on to the next offense. This helps create the identity among Catholic clergy that they are a chosen group of men; commanded by god to teach the Gospel, as well as mentor, heal, and consult. Sure, the priests recognize that they are engaged in illegal behavior (they always tell the victims to keep quiet), but I doubt they really believe it. They are not ignorant of secular law, and therefore act (and react) accordingly, but a man like O’Grady, in order to live with himself, must believe that he is without error. Or, more likely, the sex is the source of shame, not the age of the person on the other end of his penis.
The Archbishop of Los Angeles, one Roger Mahony, is surely as revolting as O’Grady himself, for in order to boost his own career, he covered up the crimes and simply pushed the pedophile around Northern California. Critics of the church rightly labeled such actions as reminiscent of the Mafia, which rewards loyalty and deference to authority above all else. This wall of silence — from the local parish to Rome itself — was motivated by the wish to avoid lawsuits and excessive payouts, but more than that, to keep donations coming in unabated. If Mahony had nipped the criminal behavior in the bud, then his example would have shed light on other parishes, and before long, the church would be staring a priest shortage in the face. Predictably, once the crimes came to light, the Catholic leadership attempted to blame the homosexual “movement” for sending its foot soldiers into the church, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of child rapists are heterosexual. But as recent books would attest (even one by Rush’s brother David Limbaugh), if the culture hadn’t been so tolerant of the gay lifestyle, children never would have been at risk and all would be well with the faith.
Berg even indicts the current clown prince of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), as having neglected to pursue the issue with the seriousness that it deserved while acting as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 until 2005. Investigations of abuse, never given much consideration as anything other than “irritants”, were to be kept in-house and not reported to police until completed by church authorities. It’s an astounding, but all-too-Catholic order, and indicative of a level of secrecy that defines Catholicism as the world’s most prosperous cult. It is this atmosphere, an attitude conveyed and perpetuated by the very top, that fostered great shame in the victims themselves, as they could not imagine that the people holding them down in the church gymnasium were anything but Christ’s representatives on earth. Again, it’s an expected course, given religion’s mandate of submission and denial of self. Strong, confident individuals believing that man creates truth could not possibly cower to old farts in funny hats, after all. A mind enslaved, however, having already been raped at an intellectual level, is but a small push away from surrendering the flesh as well. I realize this is but one step from blaming the kids for deifying some asshole in a collar, but I defy the world to locate a single agnostic or atheist who has been victimized. A faith in god is a faith in man, and both will let you down. But this we knew. Without a church to attend, or the belief that adults who claim saltines are Jesus deserve our trust, there isn’t the possibility of having your children in this position to begin with.