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Deliver Us From Evil

Sins of Our Fathers

The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally responded to accusations of wrongdoing with stony institutional silence, but never moreso than now, as thousands of parishioners have come forward with damning allegations of clerical abuse and child rape. There have been settlements and payoffs, yes, but few admissions of guilt or declarations of remorse from the Vatican. It was inevitable that this latest scandal would inspire a series of filmed explorations into the heart of the church’s darkness. Director Amy Berg’s Deliver Us From Evil is the first to feature a confessed child molester who once served as a Catholic priest.

He is Oliver O’Grady, a seemingly good-natured Irishman who, during his lengthy tenure as a Northern California priest, molested dozens of children, including a nine-month-old. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the defrocked father, who was briefly imprisoned and then deported, is the casual way he describes his exploits. On the surface, O’Grady seems normal enough: He is quiet and quick with a smile, and he speaks candidly about his crimes as if they were fond memories of innocent foolishness. He comes across not as malicious, but as pathologically disturbed. And though he expresses a vague desire to apologize to his victims, some of whom have been deeply scarred emotionally, he never seems to grasp the severity of his actions.

O’Grady’s disquieting calm is in stark contrast to the almost palpable anguish of his victims, who understandably feel betrayed and cry out for justice. The church is less than happy to oblige. Berg presents powerful proof that the church had documented evidence of O’Grady’s crimes -- as it did with so many pedophile priests -- and chose to look the other way, relocating him to new parishes where he would be free to seek out fresh prey. In particular, there is strong evidence that Cardinal Roger Mahoney, the current Archbishop of Los Angeles who once served as the overseer of O’Grady’s diocese, knew all the grisly details but showed a nearly criminal lack of interest. Mahoney’s recollections are hazy, of course. He claims his ties to O’Grady were tenuous at best, but Berg’s meticulous research suggests otherwise.

There is nothing fun about watching Deliver Us From Evil. It is a simply told tale of horrors so unspeakable they could hardly be imagined. Without a hint of dramatic artifice, it confronts behavior that is sordid and repellent, and presents its consequences in heartbreaking detail. And yet there is no catharsis in the final act, no comeuppance for the men who committed these crimes and the institution that tolerated them. The church remains silent, even as many of the faithful demand confession and candor. Berg allows those people to make their voices heard, and in doing so has crafted one of the year’s best films.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars