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Father Oliver O'Grady is the most notorious pedophile in the history of the modern Catholic Church, having violated dozens of individuals across California for more than two decades. Despite complaints from several parishes, the Church lied to parishioners and law enforcement and continued to move O'Grady from parish to parish. Remarkably, writer/director Amy Berg persuaded Father O'Grady to participate in the making of her documentary and he chillingly tells his story without remorse or self-reflection. Berg also presents never-before-seen footage of the deposition of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony as well as interviews with former priests, lawyers and the abuse survivors themselves.

 Deliver Us From Evil

In Deliver Us From Evil, I had the opportunity to explore how victims of clergy sexual abuse are abused not only by individual priests, but also by the entire church hierarchy that they are raised to trust above all else, and ultimately by society at large. My subjects were abused not only physically—far more devastatingly, they were raped of their faith. When people of deep faith lose the support of their belief system and church community, the effect is life-shattering. Without a sense of belonging many of their lives devolve into a pattern of failed relationships, isolation, shame and sometimes suicide. And that was the portrait I needed to paint in my film—that this cycle of abuse is far deeper and more destructive than we could ever understand just by reading about the “scandals” in newspapers.

This was not an easy topic to take on. I tried to understand why this system of abuse, silence, shame and denial stayed constant across continents, decades and even centuries. The more I explored the crimes and the status of those affected, the more I realized that the story was an opportunity to open the doors to these people’s prison and allow them to sing their songs freely. This position has always been available to the church, but they have chosen not to open their doors—maybe it is too painful for them to acknowledge that they saw the abuse and could have stopped it, but didn’t. It seems like every weekend, somewhere in the country, clergy abuse victims are picketing their churches, asking to be heard and welcomed back in. They say Bishops and Cardinals will not give them this opportunity. My film shows vividly those in authority denying stories, calling them impossible and untrue, despite stacks of evidence to the contrary.

At points in the filming, I would witness the horrific emotional cycles that my subjects were continuing to experience and get frustrated. I wanted to shake them and tell them to get over it, that they were okay, this was just an act perpetrated on them, but that it didn’t have to constitute their whole identity. I wanted to see them move on, to seek out their true selves and create worth from their lives apart from the church and apart from the abuse. I worried that by asking them to re-live the abuse, I was re-traumatizing them. But now I know that they needed to experience the trauma over and over (and over) again in order to synthesize their feelings and ultimately develop the courage to go public.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese (and many others, to keep things fair) spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each month to defend their actions in court cases and to try to spin public perception of the church. As a result, its victims have become more marginalized. If we as people, Bishops, Cardinals, churchgoers, friends and family could just open our doors and our hearts to people who have been violated, it would go a long way toward breaking the cycle. If we don’t open our hearts to those who need it, we silently judge them. To vilify a victim for coming forward is not a solution. Through having the courage to speak out and tell their truth, the victims of Father Oliver O’Grady have created something large in their life and in all of our lives if we let them: value.

To watch Deliver Us From Evil is to provide an ear for an hour and a half to people we may never meet. I would hope it is part of the solution. To allow ourselves to journey into a story that we think we already know is a giving action in itself. But to watch the empowerment of Ann Jyono or Nancy Sloan when another survivor hugs them and thanks them, or a person who never understood what really happened who just wants to touch Bob Jyono for having the courage to speak out—that is the proof that we have created value from something rotten.

When I finished Deliver Us From Evil, Bob Jyono, little Ann’s father, called me. Speaking really loudly because of his hearing aid, he yelled into the phone: “Amy! Thank you for putting Ann in the film. She went from being a victim to being a survivor.”

My hope is that if the making of the film inspired the transition from victim to survivor in its subjects, maybe watching the film will inspire the transition from detachment to compassion in its viewers.