Amy Berg scored quite a coup for her first documentary film. In Deliver Us from Evil, which covers one aspect of the child-abuse scandal currently rocking the Catholic church in the U.S, she gets a startlingly candid interview from Oliver O’Grady – a former priest, now living in Ireland, who abused numerous children while stationed in California between the 1970s and 1990s.
Among other things, the film has got law enforcement officials taking a second look at Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony – O’Grady’s bishop when the abuses took place – and the way he handled the allegations surrounding O’Grady.
Berg spoke to BCCN during a publicity stop in Vancouver.
BCCN: As a journalist covering this story, are you coming at it from a strictly neutral perspective, or are you perhaps Catholic yourself?
Amy Berg: I’m not Catholic, but I definitely challenge the question of neutrality, because I feel like, in a story like this, I explored all different sides of the issue, but I didn’t have access to the church. They wouldn’t talk to me.
I mean, if they had this great compelling reason why they decided to ignore the police report [which said O’Grady should not be working with children], I would love to know it and then have been able to report on it, but they didn’t share that with me. So I was as neutral as I could be…
I feel that, by showing the priest and his perspective, and the victims and their perspective, that gives you two sides of the story. And he made some very serious accusations about Cardinal Mahony… and those are all backed up in documents. And that was the best that I could do in this story.
BCCN: I know that some Catholic journalists have been covering the story as well, and they have a much more personal investment in it – it’s not that they are not neutral, but that motivates them a little more.
AB: In terms of they are less or more sensitive to the victims? Are they less sensitive to the victims because they’re Catholic, or more sensitive?
BCCN: The one I’m thinking of actually left the church because of this.
AB: Oh wow. Because I know that a lot of people who haven’t left the church, a lot of Catholics, feel that in order to keep faith in their church, they can’t acknowledge this issue. And it’s a real problem, I think, because that’s where the wall is built, between the people who have been victimized and the people who are still in the church, because they can’t talk to each other. They don’t want to acknowledge the fact that their church has participated in something that is this awful…
There has never been a bishop or a cardinal or anyone who has basically hid a pedophile – even though they knew they were abusing children – that has been arrested. And that’s criminal – it’s conspiracy, it’s perjury, it’s all those different things, and I think that makes the church kind of above the law. And that’s scary for people, to think that an organization of faith has those kinds of privileges…
BCCN: There were a few scenes in there that really devastated me, but the one that really jumped out was the one where the dad says he doesn’t believe in God any more, and his daughter, who I believe is still Catholic –
AB: Yeah, she goes to church.
BCCN: She’s sitting right next to him, and just the way she cries when she hears that – that was, in a way, to me the heart of the film, because you get the spiritual devastation, as well as the family devastation, and so forth, and all these questions about priests and lawyers and so forth can kind of cloud that.
AB: No, it’s about faith and the plight to regain faith. That’s totally the heart of the film. That’s the tragic part of this whole thing, is that that’s all they really want, and when they are isolated in the way they are in their minds, then they’re not getting to that place, they’re not able to walk into the church and not feel like everyone’s looking at them. And that’s what they struggle with.