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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Deliver Us From Evil

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A key tenet of the Catholic faith claims that in order to achieve salvation and dodge a considerably less temperate afterlife, believers must have their relationship with God mediated by the church–through Mass, through confession, and especially through the sacrament of communion. So when victims and their families talk about having their lives wrecked by a sexually abusive priest in the forceful documentary Deliver Us From Evil, that destruction is as much spiritual as psychological. There are compelling reasons to blame church policy for manufacturing deviants, but even if pedophile priests can be said to be wholly responsible for their actions, the spiritual betrayal is entirely institutional, resting with cardinals, bishops, and other officials who close rank and stonewall the victims.

A more wide-ranging and heavy-handed treatment of the issue than Kirby Dick's recent Twist Of Faith, Deliver Us From Evil centers on Father Oliver O'Grady, a priest who molested or raped dozens of children in several Northern California parishes from the mid-'70s until his conviction in 1993. Whenever charges arose that O'Grady abused his young parishioners, church officials–notably Roger Mahony, then bishop and currently a cardinal who participated in Pope Benedict XVI's election–simply moved him to another town. O'Grady eventually served seven years of a 14-year sentence, but he's currently free to roam in his native Ireland, and can even expect retirement annuities from the Catholic church.

In a major coup, director Amy Berg convinced O'Grady to appear in the documentary, and his testimony reveals a man who's chillingly divorced from the full weight of his actions. He freely admits his abuses, but couches them in clinical, lawyerly terms, and seems to believe that a written apology, followed by (gulp) one-on-one sessions with his victims, will tidy things up nicely. Berg also gets some powerful interview footage with the now-adult victims and their families, but she pumps it up needlessly with intrusive musical and visual punctuation. The film also follows them on a Roger & Me-like stunt of presenting a j'accuse letter to the Vatican; of course, it goes unanswered. From an institution that's made obfuscation part of its policy, what else did they expect?