Deliver Us from Evil

The tone of this documentary, about an Irish-born Catholic priest who molested and raped scores of children in central California throughout the '70s and '80s, instantly brings to mind the incendiary Capturing the Friedmans. However, whereas Friedmans forced audiences to come to their own conclusions through morally ambiguous storytelling, Deliver Us from Evil isn't ambiguous about anything. Director Amy Berg specifically hopes to bring down Cardinal Roger Mahony, the powerful archbishop of Los Angeles, with this film. It's hard for a layman like me to dispute her rationale: that during the many years of Father Oliver O'Grady's horrendous actions, Mahony sought to cover them up, simply relocating O'Grady time after time instead of having him arrested or at least removing him from his priestly duties, despite O'Grady's own admissions of abusing countless children (several of whom, as adults, seek retribution against both O'Grady - who was deported to Ireland after serving time in jail, and now roams free - and the church leaders who brushed his appalling acts under the carpet).

In this respect, Deliver Us from Evil is to Capturing the Friedmans what Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is to his Bowling for Columbine: Highly effective as agitprop, but not something that will encourage the audience to rethink their own moral code (unless they happen to be Catholics - but then, how many Republicans were swayed by Fahrenheit 9/11?). There's not a moment in this film where you don't think Oliver O'Grady - who provided Amy Berg with several stunningly candid interviews before his famous brother pulled the plug - is a sick, sociopathic monster; while charming and soft-spoken, he clearly feels neither grief nor regret for his crimes. Nor do you question the culpability of church leaders in this scandal, especially Roger Mahony, considered the true villain of the piece. He is presented as nothing but a ruthless careerist, more concerned about his own status in the church than in the safety of children. Other diocese leaders aren't cut any more slack; in fact, the entire Catholic church is held accountable for upholding a system that serves to protect its own leaders - at all costs - and no one else.

While this is a bold, angering film that I do hope brings down Mahony's corrupt regime, speaking as an atheist who never put any trust in the Catholic church anyway, it did nothing to challenge my own pre-formed opinions. Probably the best audience for this film would be Catholics, though something tells me they're not clamoring to see it. But I don't want to make it sound like Deliver Us from Evil is not worthwhile viewing. Far from it. It is a very powerful and disturbing documentary.