Emotion trumps facts in clergy sex abuse doco

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Deliver Us From Evil.  103 minutes. Rated: MA. Director: Amy Berg. Website

Emotion trumps facts in clergy sex abuse docoBack in 1992, Irish pop singer Sinead O’Connor was widely pilloried for tearing up a photograph of Pope John Paul II on air, during an appearance on Saturday Night Live.

Somehow, it’s hard to imagine that the stunt — an attempt to draw attention to the issue of child abuse among the Catholic priesthood — would provoke such an extreme reaction today. In the ensuing years, allegations of abuse against priests and religious ministers seem to have become almost commonplace, to the extent that "pedophile priest" is now somewhat of a stereotype — one often based more in caricature than reality.

This in itself is reason enough for a documentary such as Deliver Us From Evil, which details the atrocious acts of abuse committed by former Catholic priest Oliver O'Grady in the US during the 1970s and ’80s. If nothing else, the film serves to get beyond stereotypes and once again put human faces to a very real, very serious issue.

The film’s most potent ingredient is the willing participation of O’Grady himself. The man is despicable almost to the point of being pitiable, offering his sordid confessions for the camera without any apparent sense of remorse, in the hope of obtaining (in his words) "forgiveness and absolution".

If O’Grady isn’t enough to rouse a sense of moral outrage, the testimonies of his victims and their families will do the trick. One couple, who regarded O’Grady as a close friend only to later learn he’d been abusing their daughter under their own roof, recall the betrayal with such open grief that it will have many audiences weeping in sympathy.

Emotion trumps facts in clergy sex abuse doco

More unsettling, albeit more difficult to substantiate, are the film’s allegations of complicity among the Church hierarchy. It seems certain that for many years, O’Grady was allowed to offend with the full knowledge of his immediate superiors, as they responded to any complaints against him by simply relocating him to another parish.

That said, the extent to which the issue of abuse pervades the Church at large, and how high up the hierarchy the alleged complicity extends, is certainly less clear, although the film would have viewers believe that both abuse and complicity are rampant.

The dearth of hard evidence, beyond compelling eyewitness testimony, is a recurring weakness in the film. Several nasty allegations are levelled against O’Grady and allowed to stand without sufficient substantiation. These contribute considerably to the overall emotional impact of the film, even though the details are sketchy at best, suggesting that the filmmakers are more interested in emotional responses than in 'cold hard facts'.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s not a bad thing that the heart is allowed to win over the head. It’s right that people get emotional about these issues. Religious bodies have a moral and ethical (as well as legal) obligation to care for and protect their faithful, yet history proves that they have failed too often in this obligation.

If Deliver Us From Evil helps force churches — from the Catholics to the Salvos and everyone in between — to be properly accountable when it comes to child abuse, then it has achieved a good thing.

 

 

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Existing comments

Great reviwe. O'Grady sounds like a nightmare, and I surely think that he does not represent the broader church.
joan anderson | 17 May 2007


Thank you for your well balanced review of this film.

Therese

therese van kints | 17 May 2007


I'd be fascinated to know what can be the 'Several nasty allegations are levelled against O’Grady and allowed to stand without sufficient substantiation'. The nastiness of those to which he seems insouciantly to admit and for which he was jailed in the U.S. has been substantiated. The Catholic Church hierarchy, including the top levels, seem unable or at least unwilling to acknowledge the depth and breadth of the scandal which clerical paedophilia has wrought among the people of God.
Carmel Maguire | 17 May 2007


How does one get to see this documentary?
Richard Holland | 18 May 2007


How does one get to see this documentary?
Richard Holland | 18 May 2007


Did Tim Kroenert write the headline as well as the review? I do not think the headline matches the review. I wouldn't consider a "suggestion" to be a "trump"
Mary O'Meally | 23 May 2007


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