Saturday, June 6, 2009

In God We Trust

Deliver Us From Evil is the story of pedophile Father Oliver O'Grady's stints in various parishes throughout Northern California. It was the early 70s when O'Grady began his career as a ruthless practitioner of priestly molestation, leaving behind a trail of victims; one as young as nine months old. He was also an equal opportunity sex offender, choosing both girls and boys. Amy Berg, the director of this moving documentary, has somehow managed to get O'Grady himself to participate in the film, and thankfully so, as we are able to watch in horror as this crazed loon discusses his exploits in the same manner one would employ to rattle off a to-do list. There are heartwrenching testimonies from victims and their families that culminate in a visit to the Vatican, as well as the deposition of Cardinal Roger Mahoney. In brief, O'Grady's sickness and subsequent pursuit of small children for rape and sodomy spanned two decades, with the Church knowing full well of his illness and the likelihood that he would continue.

By now we have all been briefed of the Catholic Church's role in these cover-ups, and of the sheer volume of victims pedophilia has claimed. However, I watched this 2006 film for two reasons: 1. My love of documentary films in general. 2. My own history with Catholicism. For twelve years of my primary education, I attended three Catholic schools. During which, I was sometimes instructed by nuns, frequently and infrequently attended church services, rarely kept my Lent promise of refraining from curse words, and met a few priests. But while the religion itself played an important role early on, I was mostly swayed by the accessories...the beads, the cross pins, the optional white handbag for my Holy Communion ceremony, the scapular (you get the idea).

My grandmother (on my mother's side), was idolatrous in her worship of Catholicism. She started every morning with at least an hour of praying and concluded her evenings with another hour. She attended mass every Sunday, said Novenas, kissed her statues, and sometimes had the benefit of having me say the rosary with her (again, the accessories). She loved God and Jesus and in her common moments of inebriation, felt free to use either or both of them to pursuade a party to feel guilty. Yup, grandma had all the makings of a true Catholic. But here is something she was not: blind to the possibilty of sexual "monkey business." Nope, clergy or not, grandma felt that young girls should not be around strange older men. And maybe there was something to that.

In Deliver Us From Evil, I was surprised to learn the willingness of some of these families to let this "strange older man" into their homes; not just for dinners, but sometimes, for sleepovers. Sleepovers! It is hard to picture my mother, her former taxed single parent self, ever agreeing to an overnight stay. Dinner? Maybe. A sleepover? Oh hells no! I also question the parents' obedience to authority, or in this case, a man of the cloth. Granted some of the families had no idea (as with many of the cases worldwide), but of those that found out about O'Grady, I would think the local precinct would have been the first place to go. Or, to confront O'Grady himself. It is hard not to imagine my mother barging into a police station or a confessional booth and waging holy verbal terror.

But perhaps I am being too presumptuous.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the human disposition towards authority known as the Power Distance Index. Basically, how we see ourselves in relation to those we assume have more power or authority. The families in this film are trusting, kindhearted, easily taken by O'Grady's charm, and mostly credulous because he is a man of God. So, they are apt to follow Diocese protocol in making a complaint. I also have to remember that it is the 70s, and much like that decade's predecessors-the 50s and 60s-people were still operating from some popular beliefs of that time: 1. Don't interfere with parents who believe in corporal punishment. 2. Obey your elders and those in a higher standing. 3. Adhere to the FDA's food pyramid. 4. Children should be seen and not heard.

Which makes it that much harder to feel anything but compassion and sympathy for these families. And, nothing but outrage towards O'Grady as he ends up serving just seven years in prison before being deported to Ireland to walk the streets a free man.

I won't get into the various theories behind pedophilia, especially involving that of priests, because it is too depressing and still being debated. But one pressing question of mine did get answered in this film: why, really, priests are not allowed to marry. A denial my grandmother and I always thought wrong. Apparently, many years ago, marriage was acceptable, but as priests died and the money went to surviving family members and not the Church, this option was soon snuffed. Thus confirming today's rampant notion that the Catholic Church = Corporation. (I wish that had been on the GREs)

Critic's Note: Hmmm. In one scene in which O'Grady is being interviewed, he is shot in front of a playground where there are several small children playing on a jungle gym. Hmmm.

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