(2006) dir. Amy Berg
This movie should outrage and effect anyone who sees it. It’s the story of a Catholic priest, Oliver O’Grady, who operated as an increasingly brazen child molester, preying on the children that he was regularly given privileged access to due to his role as priest in these communities in Northern Central California. He operated thusly starting in the mid-1970’s and continued, moving from parish to parish within a fairly small radius, with full knowledge of his actions and behavior by his superiors, until finally getting a serious legal case against him that got him 14 years in prison (only 7 served) before being sent back to Ireland.
The film builds well, starting with O’Grady talking of making amends for his actions, talking to try to do some reparation and one of the families effected discussing how they brought him into their lives, community, and family. As the narrative unfolds, the increasingly horrible actions O’Grady takes, including abusing (literally raping) a girl only 9 months old. I don’t know that you go from sympathizing with him to despising him, but you do get a more full sense of his character from this portrayal. Also, by the end, you see the hypocrisy and lack of real guilt that he continues to have, living free and untracked in Ireland. The sickness (and I recognize that this is my personal reaction) that O’Grady displays and the vileness of the people whose lives he has damaged and scarred is tremendous.
And the film changes as it gets stronger, into a real indictment of the archdiocese of Northern California, particularly two of the direct heads above O’Grady who seek to continue to advance their careers within the church rather than protect children from an absolute predator. And they deserve the damnation thrown at them, don’t get me wrong. It’s disgusting and horrific that these men have escaped jail time. They clearly lack any form of conscience. The film takes it further still, following up the chain to the current Pope, who oversaw a major group in the Catholic church to protect children from abuse. It’s totally valid. These people are frighteningly self-satisfied, leading with their false piety while allowing great pain, victimization, and suffering that there are few people in the world that would argue is absolutely wrong.
I think the film falters a bit, though, in this area. Though the film uses the erudite and intelligent Catholic church critic, Catholic father Tom Doyle, who has spoken out for years on the church’s attitude and approach to these issues, there gets to be a pretty strong anti-Catholic message that it’s easy to understand from a perspective, but moves away from the relay of a compelling situation, a horrific story, and a real crime. I mean, I totally believe that all of these people should face criminal prosecution, but I think the film sort of loses some of its power in the final stretch.
However, the Japanese-American father whose daughter was abused from age 5-11 by this man that they brought into their home, cared for, and supported until the very end, delivers the film’s most powerful cry of outrage that is almost impossible not to identify with. It’s incredibly hard and terribly sad.
As a documentary, the film is good. The subject matter is so compelling and powerful, it has the tendency to obscure the film itself.