We're almost charmed when, in this documentary, we first meet ex-priest Oliver O'Grady, now living in Ireland and awaiting a tidy Vatican pension thanks in part to a President Bush pardon and the Church's unflagging efforts to cover its ass. He's a gnomish, smiling senior with mischievous blue eyes whose soft tenor voice enjoys a melodious Celtic lilt.
Even as he talks about how he's always liked children, the younger the better, and especially naked, even as we learn that he's raped hundreds of them ' from 1-year-olds to grizzled tweens ' for over 20 years, the disconnect between this gentle old coot and his crimes persists.
But then director Amy Berg presents us with a crisply matter-of-fact psychologist who stresses, 'You have to walk through the realityâ?� of a grown man's genitals being forced into the tiny aperture of an infant's, and at this exact sickening juncture our denial dissolves as we realize that we are dealing with the lowest form of human monstrosity.
Before you have a chance to puke, Berg segues to the larger perp, a Catholic Church that places a far higher premium on crisis management and image-tending than on children's lives. A Church gone lousy with criminal institutional indifference, that deals with its shadow side, as a victim's lawyer says, with 'deception, perjury, denial and deceit from the highest levels.â?�
Berg uses her experience at CNN and on 60 Minutes to give us a dry, damning-fact-laden accounting. Known as 'Father Ollieâ?� to his parishioners and victims alike, O'Grady ' sometimes almost whimsically ' narrates his adventures during the '70s and '80s, raping children at one parish and then being moved by the Church to another to rape children there.
Mortification turns to rage as Berg's unearthed deposition footage displays Cardinal Roger Mahoney ' still Archbishop of Los Angeles ' and doddering Pope Benedict XVI ' then in charge of investigating priestly abuse ' showing zero remorse as they equivocate, cling to legal minutiae or brazenly lie about their complicity in Ollie's crimes.
Other field experts advance the explanation that celibacy, sexual repression and the church elders' sense of superiority creates a cauldron of crimes just waiting to happen. Worse is the prevalent Church view that pedophilia isn't all that big a deal ' a big deal would be homosexual sex between adults.
But the shredded heart of Berg's film belongs to a core group of survivors: Nancy Sloan, Ann Jyono and Adam M.
In the film's most horrific intersection, Adam, a handsome, clenched-jaw emo sort of guy, revisits the place where O'Grady sodomized him as a kid; a few minutes later, O'Grady recalls doing so with not much more than a shrug.
But it's the story of Ms. Jyono and her family ' a Japanese-American dad and Irish-American mom ' that illustrates how deeply O'Grady's transgressions wrecked lives. Now an attractive professional nearing 40, Jyono is fearful that the spiritual scar tissue left from her priest's acts will leave her unable ever to have a relationship, while her father recalls how the Church was part of his American dream, how he allowed Father Ollie into his home, where the priest promptly seduced his wife.
The tension is almost unbearable as we wait for the big recall: Kindly Father Ollie, then living with the Jyono family, raped the child at age 5. When Mr. Jyono finally surmises this ultimate betrayal, this reserved man completely falls to pieces, weeping and cursing himself, the Church and God. Later, one Vatican expert says the Church leadership operates 'like the Mafiaâ?� (a sentiment also echoed by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating) but in light of the Jyono story, that actually feels unfair to the mob.
With the exception of some new footage of a meditative O'Grady at church ' meant, one supposes, to evoke the mystery of the creature in its natural habitat, but which ends up feeling intrusively cinematic ' Berg maintains her properly detached tone throughout, enhanced only by mournful liturgical songs by Nick Cave and Joseph Arthur.
Berg seems to slip on the side of saccharine as the survivors engage in a sort of group therapy, but that view promptly evaporates when we see O'Grady composing a letter to the survivors. In it, he proposes they all fly to Ireland for a salving group confab; Adam's response is to suggest that his ex-pastor go fuck himself. And amen to that. Unfortunately, as the film's closing credits list the continuing prevalence and tolerance of abuse, the institution that made O'Grady's crimes possible is still at large and unaccountable.