Clergy Abuse Film Targets LA Cardinal
By Gillian Flaccus
Associated Press, carried in The Mercury News
October 5, 2006
Los Angeles - The defrocked priest is by turns remorseful and flippant as he recounts in graphic detail a lifetime of sexually abusing children. Then, near the end of "the most honest confession of my life," he turns to the movie camera to wink and smile at his victims.
Oliver O'Grady's confession is the backbone of a deeply disturbing documentary about the Roman Catholic clergy abuse crisis in one rural Northern California diocese - a tale all the more unsettling because, for the first time, it is told in the words of an abusive priest himself.
O'Grady, 61, was deported to his native Ireland in 2001 after serving seven years in state prison for molesting two brothers. He has admitted abusing at least 25 children, and cost the Diocese of Stockton millions of dollars to settle civil sexual-abuse lawsuits.
In "Deliver Us From Evil," first-time filmmaker Amy Berg uses O'Grady's lengthy narrative to question how much diocese leaders knew about those crimes and the steps they took to stop the charming young priest who was nicknamed Father Ollie.
The unrated film, which won best documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival, opens in Los Angeles and New York on Oct. 13, with a broader release in at least 10 more markets two weeks later. It has been picked up by Lions Gate Entertainment.
The film focuses on O'Grady's relationship with Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who was his bishop in Stockton in the early 1980s when O'Grady confessed to at least one instance of molestation. Mahony is now struggling to settle hundreds of sexual abuse cases against the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which may also be under investigation by a criminal grand jury (authorities won't say if proceedings are taking place).
Berg opens the film with O'Grady praying, surrounded by candles. He is pensive and quiet as he reflects on his 22-year career in the Diocese of Stockton and the trail of pain he left behind.
"I am here because I recognize in my life there has been a major imbalance mainly caused by what I have done in a criminal way," O'Grady says. "Basically what I want to say to them is, you know, it should not have happened. It should not have happened."
The film then moves through a series of gut-wrenching interviews with several of O'Grady's alleged victims and their parents that hint at the depth of betrayal they feel. O'Grady has previously said in court depositions that he began abusing others when he was 12 and at one point had sex with two of his victims' mothers to gain access to their children.
These interviews are stark, edited in a no-frills style that contrasts with the more choreographed shots of O'Grady, who is often seen from above or far away as he sits in church or a children's classroom. There is no narrator, but Berg relies on interviews, clips of court testimony and documents to set a critical tone.
In one scene, a father stares at the camera, his face contorted in rage and pain, and screams that he no longer believes in God as his 40-year-old daughter - O'Grady's first known victim - sobs next to him.
Berg, 36, is unapologetic in her harsh critique of the church leadership, particularly Mahony. She acknowledges that during interviews O'Grady often acted "like a 7-year-old child," but says that most of what he told her was supported by documents from his private personnel file.
When he was bishop of Stockton two decades ago, Mahony supervised O'Grady and transferred him to a rural parish after the priest confessed to his therapist in 1984 that he had molested a 9-year-old boy. Following the confession, Mahony ordered O'Grady to undergo a psychological evaluation.
Mahony, who appears briefly in the film through videotaped deposition testimony, declined to be interviewed for the documentary and for this story. He has said, however, that police could not corroborate O'Grady's confession and declined to press charges.
O'Grady continued to abuse children at his new posting in rural San Andreas. He was removed from the priesthood in 1993 after being arrested on separate molestation charges.
In the movie, the defrocked priest insists that Mahony knew of his pattern of abuse and went as far as to call him personally in 1984 to reassure him no charges would be filed.
"He was very supportive. You know, he was very compassionate," O'Grady says of Mahony. "I felt at the time he was merely calling to check how I was doing, because he obviously knew I had been very stressed out over the situation."
Los Angeles Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg has seen the film and called it an "obvious anti-church hit piece" about a man who manipulates everyone around him.
"It wasn't much of a documentary if you ask me. The bottom line of it all is the willingness of everybody to believe the word of a convicted child molester," Tamberg said. "He fooled his bishop, he fooled his therapist, he fooled the families and yet for some reason people seem willing to put that all aside and say, 'I believe him now,' with his weird little grins and winks."
Berg, a former television journalist, says she first considered making a documentary about the clergy abuse crisis after reporting on the story for KCBS-TV in Los Angeles and CNN.
When Berg finally convinced O'Grady to go on camera after five months of phone interviews, she was surprised at how bitter he seemed about the church leadership he claims protected him for years. He now lives in Thurles, Ireland in the shadow of the seminary where he once trained for the priesthood.
"O'Grady's slumming it, basically. He's living on nothing and these guys are living in all their glory and I think it upsets him," Berg said. "His story kind of burned a hole inside of him and he's been looking for an outlet. He's got so much to say."
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