Movie Review: "Deliver Us From Evil"

4 Stars

Directed by Amy Berg
Lions Gate Films

In a year when films like the “The Da Vinci Code” and “Jesus Camp” have questioned the core beliefs and practices of popular religion, “Deliver Us From Evil”—a documentary about the Catholic Church’s lengthy history with pedophilia and subsequent cover-ups— turns a more realistic lens on similar subject matter. Written and directed by Amy Berg, a young journalist who said she felt compelled to make the film after Boston’s Cardinal Law scandal broke in 2002, “Deliver Us” manages to maintain its journalistic integrity while conveying the obviously emotional stories of children abused by priests and abandoned by the Church in their time of need.

Through select case studies, “Deliver Us,” which won Best Documentary Feature at the 2006 Los Angeles Film Festival, guides the viewer through the experiences of three individuals and their families who suffered at the hands of Father Oliver O’Grady. Despite having raped and sodomized what likely amount to hundreds of children, O’Grady served just seven years in prison and gives his own narrative while walking freely through the streets of Dublin, where he now lives.

In one frightening scene, the ex-priest confesses his attraction to naked children while standing in front of a crowded children’s playground. “They say, do you feel aroused when you see children in underwear? I say, yeah. How about children who are naked? I say, yeah.” Toward the end of the film, the priest invites his victims to visit him in Ireland. Looking directly into the camera, O’Grady winks as he declares, “All I can say is Godspeed and hope to see you all soon.”

“Deliver Us From Evil” is at its best when documenting O’Grady’s openly perverse and seemingly psychotic thought process, and it is also remarkably successful at revealing the destruction he left in his wake. One of the most moving scenes shows the father of one victim, Ann, questioning how and why his daughter suffered in silence for so many years. Recounting how the five-year-old had said nothing, the father breaks down and screams.

Yet the film is shortsighted in its consideration of the wider problem of child abuse in the Church. Showcasing advocates of the victims’ rights like Father Tom Doyle does allow viewers to see the work being done within the Church to combat the problem. But by implicating the Church’s most powerful figure—Cardinal Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI—in the scandal, the film accuses the entire hierarchy of the cover-up and reconstructs Church history to peripherally implicate priest celibacy as the cause of clergymen’s sexual deviance. “Deliver Us” does not purport that the priest pedophilia scandal would be solved if priests were allowed to marry, and Berg never should have tackled such a large issue in such a cursory manner.

Bottom Line: The deftly written and directed “Deliver Us From Evil” provides a timely exploration of the power dynamic between abusive clergymen and their most vulnerable parishioners.

—Reviewer Kathleen A. Fedornak can be reached at fedorn@fas.harvard.edu.