"Evil" Incarnate: Interview with Director Amy Berg
By KJ Doughton
November 14, 2006
Meet Father Oliver O'Grady, a former Catholic Priest whose bland face and unthreatening manner betray the fact that he's also a serial pedophile. Over a twenty-year spree of rape and sodomy, this self-proclaimed "people person" betrayed church families and sexually molested their children. But you'd never expect such offenses from "Father Ollie," a seemingly passive man whose kind eyes suggest support and sanctuary. Watching him saunter through a family park in Ireland, where children pop in and out of the periphery, it's horrifying to consider that O'Grady was deported here after a lengthy incarceration and prison sentence in America. He's a free man now, living amongst youngsters.
Father O'Grady is a piece of work. But "Deliver Us From Evil," the sobering, hair-raising documentary from Amy Berg, doesn't tire itself out trying to incriminate its perplexing villain. O'Grady does that all by himself. In a heavy Irish brogue, this disgraced Man of the Cloth deflects accountability the way Jackie Chan dodges an opponents' punch. He speaks of his misdeeds in an oddly disconnected manner. Hear him attribute his own foul behavior to others: "They should have followed up." "That's when their situation began." With O'Grady, it seems, it's always someone else's situation.
Director Amy Berg, a veteran producer of news stories for CBS and CNN, spent several years investigating pedophile priests, putting special emphasis on the Los Angeles Archdiocese and Cardinal Roger Mahoney. A scandal magnet within the Church community, Mahoney had supervised over 550 priests – including O'Grady - charged with abusing children. During her research of the Church pedophilia plague, Berg became aware of both O'Grady's repugnant record of misdeeds, and another equally troubling reality. Neither Mahoney, nor any of O'Grady's other Church superiors, had faced any formal legal or Church based punishment for their callous dereliction of duty. She wanted answers.
Berg tracked down O'Grady's phone number and called the banished offender in Ireland, hoping to hear his perspective. Amazingly, he agreed to meet her. After several months of communication, O'Grady expressed a desire to go public with his story. Berg flew to Dublin and filmed ten days' worth of interviews with the former priest. His astounding comments make up the backbone of "Deliver Us From Evil."
However, the film's heart comes from O'Grady's victims. To Berg's credit, "Deliver Us From Evil" resists becoming a grotesque expose centered around one man, and obtains a more dignified goal. Her movie becomes a voice for the abused. Victimized by O'Grady during road trips, Nancy Sloan confirms the ongoing trauma she struggles to manage. "I see a Dodge Duster," she reveals, "and I pull over and dry heave."
"My mom was involved with him," remembers Adam M., another youth who – along with his mother - suffered abuse at the hands of O'Grady. One victim was a nine month- old infant. The most devastating moment in "Deliver Us From Evil" involves Bob Jyono, who, along with wife Maria, was a friend of O'Grady, before the Priest moved in on their daughter Ann. Narrating his family's tragic history with O'Grady, the anguished father eventually explodes in tearful rage. "The whole world collapsed," Jyono cries. His face grimaces. Tightens. More tears. "Not molesting… raping her…at five years old."
There are horror films, and there is "Deliver Us From Evil." Berg's film is a sobering wake-up call exposing not only the devastation wreaked by child sexual abuse, but also the defensive cover-up mechanisms used by the Church to redirect, divert, and stall investigations into this epidemic of sickness. Meanwhile, the film addresses firsthand the crushing loss of faith experienced by those violated by O'Grady and other pedophile priests.
In downtown Seattle to promote her film, Berg huddled in the corner of a hotel lobby to speak with journalists concerning her interviews with Father O'Grady. She also discusses the financial roots behind celibacy in the Catholic Church, and the ongoing search by victims to find something to believe in.
Can you provide us with some background on your film? What was the catalyst behind "Deliver Us From Evil?"
I was working at CNN on a story that involved Cardinal Mahoney and a number of priests that had almost the same story, where there were complaints from parents, a police report, a move… all of these different kinds of trends. Oliver O'Grady was one of the priests. His story was so… devastating. Every time I heard a new fact about his story, I would go, "We can't go on the air. I need to know all this extra stuff." The baby. The mom. There was no rhyme or reason to his pedophilia.
The story went on the air. I got his phone number and called him. I talked to him, and he was very candid. I had tried to approach other priests. He was in Ireland, so he obviously wasn't the first choice for getting a story. But he was the only one who would talk to me. I flew to Ireland to meet with him. He said that he wanted to tell his story, but he didn't know how to tell it. He agreed to be tape-recorded once a week. So I would call him once a week for five months. Then, he decided he wanted to go on camera. That was the reason to make the film.
So for five months, it was basically "tape recorder only." The film aspect didn't come into it until a half-year later?
Right. But I had time to research everything he said, and back up what he was saying with documents. Really kind of take the extra steps I needed. It was definitely important, and a major story.
Sounds like it was initially a more generalized story, but this one particular character was intriguing, and piqued your interest…
Yes. That's a weird thing to say about a pedophile, I guess.
As the movie goes on, O'Grady's likeability erodes away more and more. It gets one wondering, "What was he thinking?" What were his motives behind doing the interviews?
There was nothing he could have gained. By talking to me, he probably has lost his severance pay. But I think that he had a story he really wanted to tell. He didn't get to tell it in the civil trial. He pled the fifth. In part of the film, the lawyers come and talk to him (and suggest that he remain silent). He never got to say what he wanted to say, and I think that it was burning a hole inside of him. He's a lonely guy living in Ireland, who has done these awful things. And he is a sick man; no matter how much of a monster anyone thinks he is. You do see at the end that he is a sick man, and he should be institutionalized. Someone like that should not be walking free.
There's a lot of debate concerning whether or not individuals like this are amenable to treatment, or responsive to any kind of therapy. What do you think of this?
I've read a lot of stories, and done research on it. I've always heard from psychologists and experts that there is no cure for pedophilia. Maybe he had a chance, in 1971, when he was first "dabbling around." But twenty-five years later? Come on. It's not possible. In 1993, he was arrested. He served seven years. Then they put him in a holding cell. He was let out of prison, and they didn't know what to do with him. There was discussion about putting him into Atascadero (a state mental hospital in California). The District Attorney's Office and the Church met about this, and they decided that it wasn't probably worth the money. So they deported him.
I think that he probably would be much happier (in the hospital). He told me that his happiest time was when he was jail.
I think it's acceptance. He lives in hiding now. When he was in jail, he was with people who had he same problem. It's like a support group, I guess, or something. In his mind, he felt like he was kind of hung out to dry.
Some of the most chilling footage in "Deliver Us From Evil" shows O'Grady walking in parks full of kids.
This is the lifestyle in Ireland. Walking through a neighborhood, there's a park around every corner. Lots of elderly people, young people, and kids in parks, with their packed lunches, sitting around. It's a very outdoor, social culture. For any person talking to a pedophile, to know that that's what they're exposed to is an important thing to have in the film.
After we had spent five or six days interviewing, we said, "OK, let's do some stuff outside now, where we're gonna follow you around." So he kind of led us, and I was asking him questions, walking backwards, and he answered them. He walked up to artwork, started talking, and walked into the park.
That was his routine? It wasn't manipulated, having him go into the parks and playgrounds…
No. But it could have been any playground.
There is no narrator for the movie. Did you know from the beginning that you would tell the story through interviews and images, without narration?
I never wanted to have a narrator. I didn't think that this was a story that needed any manipulation. That was the thing that everyone relied on in the news. I wanted it to be (the victims') story. It's ironic, I guess, that I'm now being attacked for everything by the Church. I really tried to keep myself out of it. I did so much research on all the points that are in the film. They came from the perspective of the people that were in the film. That was important to me.
From a filmmaker's perspective, were you ever tempted to add some stylish flourish, or was it was it always going to be very deadpan, because of the intensity of the subject matter?
I wanted it to be really raw. I didn't want it to be lit up, or anything like that. I wanted it to be very natural. I wasn't going to use much music in the beginning. I ended up using a lot more than I thought. It was for a lot of different reasons. In documentaries, the sound is such a big issue. I mean, the sounds were so messed up in certain places. There were funky crackles, and things like that, which happen when you make a documentary. I felt like the voice of the music, that shakuhachi instrument, which is a Japanese flute, served as a "lone victim" sound. It added another voice to the film.
Kind of a melancholy sound…
It's very solo. Kind of lonely.
It's ironic that we're seeing the Mark Foley scandal as your film comes out. There seem to be parallels between scandals in politics and the Church, and the "sweeping under the carpet" syndrome that you see.
Yeah. I thought it was kind of ironic that the origin of celibacy (in the Church) was a financial decision. It just creates this crazy segue way for that. You're proclaiming holiness as a financial decision, where they were losing churches to the wives and children. It seems very strange…
Sounds like there really is a political drive behind celibacy. You don't have heirs to inherit the assets.
Right. I found that out as I was doing my research. I also found that the Jyono family was very upset by the fact that this was someone giving them marriage advice, and he had no idea what he was talking about. They all felt this same scorn; "Who is this person, and why did we trust him so much?" Just because he was reading the word of God.
In terms of the effects of the abuse, the faces of the victims show that they were far from over it. There was the comment, "I see a Dodge Duster, and I want to dry heave." But there are people out there who don't want to deal with this. It sounds a little insensitive, but some might say, "Why regurgitate this?" – people who don't want to hear about this.
But is that fair to the people who experienced it on a day-to-day basis? It didn't happen to us, so you and I are never going to feel the pain that they feel. So why can't we give them and hour and a half of our time? They live with this pain every single day. Their whole life has become this constant battle to try to regain their lives. So it's kind of a selfish thing, but I understand why we do it. Because we read the headlines, and we go, "Okay, another priest. Another hundred soldiers killed in Iraq." Boom, boom, boom. But at the end of the day, the people who are out there fighting every day don't share the same view as you and I do. That was the point I was making with the film. The truth is, it's the story behind the headlines.
Father Tom Doyle emerges as one of the film's heroes, advocating outreach for the victims.
I think for him, it's just another way to spread the word that he's trying to spread. When he was basically fired from his job with the Church, he lost his opportunity to speak to the parishioners. So he's spent fifteen years talking to victims and helping them say their peace. I think for him, it was a good thing. This is just a part of his life. He does this twenty times every day with other people, and books, and he teaches. It's all part of his advocacy.
In the film, he's quoted as saying a good Catholic will "pay, pray, and obey."
Yeah. I love that people are quoting him. He's so smart, and so great.
He mentioned that a great Catholic was actually a revolutionary…
Like Jesus Christ.
I wondered if you had any additional comments on that.
I don't. I don't believe in Jesus Christ. I grew up Jewish. I don't know about that. I think that was another point that I represented of his. There's nothing of me personal that's in it. But you saw the response from the group. It meant a lot to them. That's why that kind of stuff made it into the film. That was a moment for the people listening. They need to believe… their whole thing is, "What can I believe in?" Nancy. Ann. The parents. I was something that they were trying to believe was honest. They look for faith and honesty in every aspect of their lives.
Didn't Ann's father tell you that since the film, he perceived his daughter as having gone from victim to survivor?
What an amazing thing. That's a great compliment.
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