“Deliver Us From Evil,” Amy Berg’s important, hard-to-watch documentary about the sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, will open at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8 at the Smith Opera House.
Pedophilia is not a subject most are eager to think about, but these days it seems impossible to avoid. Neither sensationalistic nor sentimental, Berg’s film is clear-sighted, tough-minded and devastating, a portrait of individual criminality and institutional indifference, a study in the betrayal of trust and the irresponsibility of authority.
What gives the film some of its unnerving power is that, in addition to giving voice to some of the victims of abuse, it spends a lot of time with a perpetrator. Oliver O’Grady is now a silver-haired, twinkly-eyed resident of Ireland, where Berg films him in parks and near playgrounds, with children nearby. In the 1970s and '80s, while serving as a parish priest in several towns in Central California, he molested children over and over again, both boys and girls.
Perhaps the creepiest thing about O’Grady — who was eventually imprisoned, unfrocked and deported to Ireland, where he had grown up — is the contrast between his present demeanor and his past actions. When recalling his crimes, he sometimes chuckles, almost warmly, as if what he had done were silly rather than unspeakably sordid. Although he does not deny anything, he takes refuge in euphemism, explaining that he was often “overly affectionate” with his young parishioners and apologizing for having “offended” them.
His mild, almost merry manner stands in brutal contrast to the pain expressed by Bob and Maria Jyono, whose daughter, Ann, was among O’Grady’s victims. O’Grady — then Father O’Grady — became a virtual member of their family, spending many nights in their home.
O'Grady's superiors in the diocese kept moving him from parish to parish in an effort to cover up his behavior. Berg, a veteran of both CBS News and CNN, carefully and calmly assembles a devastating case against church officials' mendacity.
The film will be shown at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, Monday the 11th and Tuesday the 12th; and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 10. With a running time of 1:41, this film is not rated.
Tickets are $5 general admission and $3 for students and senior citizens, and will be available at the door.