Filmmaker tells story of priest busted in sexual abuse scandal
Not all wolves approach their victims in the guise of sheep. Some, such as former Roman Catholic priest Oliver O’Grady, arrive in the clothes of a shepherd and display no qualms about betraying the flock they were entrusted to protect.
The predatory practices of Father Ollie, as he was known during his residence in several Stockton-area parishes, are detailed in Emmy-winning journalist Amy Berg’s piercing documentary, “Deliver Us From Evil.” In addition to revisiting the crimes committed by one of the most notorious of all pedophile priests — imprisoned for seven years, but residing in Dublin — the film focuses on those left permanently scarred by the sexual abuse and church leaders who believed a change of scenery would cure O’Grady’s disease.
Specifically, Berg points her finger at Cardinal Roger Mahony, who was in charge of the Stockton diocese before being named archbishop of Los Angeles. If he had acted quickly and decisively to protect parishioners from this menace, Berg argues, dozens of young people — and their parents — might not have had their lives and faith altered so dramatically.
Mahony declined her invitation to discuss the case for the film, but, along with a key aide, he appears in a deposition videotaped for use in a lawsuit brought by a pair of brothers molested by O’Grady between 1978 and 1991. His evasive responses failed to impress the jury, which, in 1998, ruled against the Diocese of Stockton by awarding the brothers $30 million in damages.
Neither does the longtime segment-producer for CNN, CBS and ABC spare newly installed Pope Benedict, who, before he took office, presided over high-level Vatican committees looking into priestly abuse. Ultimately, the committee of bishops washed their hands of the whole sordid mess, not only prompting lawsuits from victims but also prompting President George W. Bush to grant the pontiff immunity from prosecution here.
“I wanted to go in fresh … not rely on other peoples’ takes on the story,” said Berg. “This required doing original researchand uncovering the depositions of Mahony and [Vicar of Stockton] Monsignor Cain. The contributions of Father Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer and victims-rights advocate, and [clergy abuse psychologist] Mary Gail Frawley O’Dea also were extremely important.
“I found it interesting that celibacy wasn’t required of clergy, even popes, in the early years of the church. It came about because their children were getting the inheritances church leaders wanted for themselves.”
“Deliver Us From Evil” opened to rave reviews in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, just as congressional investigations into the events surrounding the resignation of U.S. Rep. Mark Foley began to spread beyond the boundaries of Washington, D.C., and Florida. The timing may have been coincidental, but only a cave dweller could fail to find a parallel between the apparent cover-ups of evidence in both the Foley and O’Grady cases.
That Thursday, a priest whom Foley reportedly accused of molestation almost four decades ago admitted he fondled the six-term congressman as a teen. Like O’Grady, his admission of guilt was less an apology than a textbook example of disassociation. (This week, another Florida altar boy stepped forward to accuse the same priest of sexual abuse.)
“Once maybe I touched him, but it wasn’t rape or penetration or anything like that … we were just fondling,” said the Rev. Anthony Mercieca, 69, who now lives on the Maltese island of Gozo. “He seemed to like it, you know? So, it was sort of more like a spontaneous thing.”
Unlike O’Grady, who, like Foley, says he was molested as a child, Mercieca has outlasted the statute of limitations on such crimes and is still a priest. According to Berg, Catholic seminaries have long served as incubators for a “culture of pedophilia,” where young victims of sexual abuse could find shelter before being sent out into a world of which they knew practically nothing.
It wasn’t until the Boston Archdiocese was rocked by a similar scandal, in the early ’90s, that rank-and-file Catholics began accepting the reality that there was a basis in fact to allegations of widespread pedophilia in the clergy. Traditionally, the word of a priest was given far more credence than that of a child.
“Until then, cases involving clergy were routinely handled by police chaplains, and little came of them,” Berg said. “That’s all changed.”
Berg’s coup came in her ability to convince O’Grady that some good could come from being interviewed for “Deliver Us From Evil.” The creepiness of his affectless testimony is compounded by “walk-and-talks” conducted within feet of unsuspecting children and parents.
“He blended right in,” Berg said, admitting the juxtaposition could be seen as manipulative. “In Dublin, there’s a park every two blocks and children are everywhere. There was no way I couldn’t use those shots.”