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In the shadow of the Catholic sex-abuse scandal, here's the movie you have to see

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deliver-evilImage Credit: Everett CollectionIn the past, I’ve occasionally drawn attention to a movie that sheds light on a current news event. But the continuing revelations, this time in Europe, about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church are so grave and devastating, such a fearful human crime and human tragedy, that I want to say, right up front, I would not be asking you to read a blog post about this subject unless I thought that the movie I was going to recommend in connection with it was, by any standard, essential viewing. I certainly do concur with Ken Tucker’s assessment of the biting candor of last night’s Christopher Hitchens segment on Real Time with Bill Maher. If you want to gain an even deeper apprehension of this scandal, however, Deliver Us From Evil, released in 2006, is a great, fearless, shattering piece of documentary truth-telling. I promise you that if you see it, you will never read another news story about this topic without having a more profound and haunted understanding of it.

The movie, directed by Amy Berg, is a multi-layered exploration that looks with searing intimacy into the broken lives of former abuse victims, whom it portrays with supreme empathy, but also with a non-sugarcoated understanding of the emotional destruction they went through. Just as revealingly, the film opens up the shadow world of ecclesiastical politics, the whole darkly hidden shell-game system by which the priests who were perpetrators of these crimes were shuffled from one parish to the next, in a deliberate attempt to conceal their actions from the world. It was, quite literally, a protection racket. A key portion of the film is devoted to Father Oliver “Ollie” O’Grady (pictured above), a former Irish priest and convicted pedophile who discusses, at length, how he was able to get away with what he did. When I wrote about the movie in the fall of 2006, I said:

“Layer by layer, Berg uncovers how Father Ollie rooted his monstrous serial abuse in the sanctimony he enjoyed as a priest. As the dispenser of the Eucharist, he was a literal link to Christ, and the film makes the startling point that within the priesthood, since any sexual act is regarded as a sin, a sin of child abuse can be confessed away, can be forgiven, as surely as any other. The brilliance of Deliver Us From Evil — what makes the film a revelation and not just a rehash of headlines — is the way that Berg portrays a kind of terrifying psychological chain, linking the abuse, the obscene entitlement experienced by a man like O’Grady, and the squirmy arrogance of the Catholic authorities who, in effect, hid his crimes, giving allowance to child rape because they believed their mission to be above sin.”

More, perhaps, than any of the Catholic Church’s previous child sex-abuse scandals, like the one within the Archdiocese of Boston that garnered international headlines in 2002, the current chapter in this story — for it is, in the end, one vast, hideous, multi-stranded story — points to the essential moral-logistical issue of how the cover-up within the Church actually worked. That’s an issue that Berg, in Deliver Us From Evil, addresses head-on. At one point she travels to the Vatican with several of the victims and attempts, in what comes off as a solemn, almost missionary version of a Michael Moore ambush, to win an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, who had been granted immunity from prosecution by President George W. Bush. The Church ignores her requests. Now, of course, Pope Benedict XVI is at the very epicenter of news reports about the current scandal.

A great documentary is like that; it can gain resonance, and relevance, with time. Now more than ever, Deliver Us From Evil is a must-see movie.

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