A pedophile priest, in his own words
“Deliver Us From Evil,” a documentary about pedophile priest Oliver O’Grady and his devastating California legacy, has earned its filmmaker multiple awards and an Oscar nomination. Now the film is kicking up new controversy and litigation from L.A. to Ireland, where O’Grady now lives.
Released in the U.S. last fall, “Deliver Us From Evil” details the 20-year swath of abuse that Irish native O’Grady cut through the Stockton area from 1971 to his arrest in 1993, and it concludes that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, then the bishop of Stockton, knew of the molestations but transferred and promoted O’Grady anyway.
The film features O’Grady giving director Amy Berg what he calls “the most honest confession of my life.” Its cinematic success is not only calling renewed attention to Mahony but also motivating more victims in the U.S. and Ireland to come forward with civil lawsuits as well as criminal allegations that could land O’Grady in prison in Ireland, where there is no statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. The film has already turned him into a national pariah there, recognized on the street, hounded by reporters and well-known to police.
“Deliver Us From Evil,” which has been front-page news in Ireland since Lionsgate Films premiered it in Los Angeles last summer, will gets its first major Irish screening today at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
Irish advocates for victims of child sex abuse say O’Grady’s candor in the film has made him vulnerable to vigilantism, and they worry that the film’s release in Ireland may, at the very least, drive him into hiding again. The 61-year-old has moved four times in two years, and a cellphone number he answered in October is no longer in service. Last fall, O’Grady told Berg he was somewhat relieved to confess on film but was also braced for the inevitable backlash it would bring.
Legacy of abuse
O’Grady first left Ireland for Central California in August 1971. He served parishes in Stockton, Lodi, Turlock and San Andreas. The former priest was arrested in 1993, convicted of 21 counts of child sex abuse and served seven years in Mule Creek State Prison near Sacramento. A jury in 1998 awarded two of O’Grady’s victims a record-total $30-million judgment, which later was reduced to $7 million. The new lawsuits -- one filed by an American man, the other to be filed by an Irishman -- are being pursued in San Joaquin County, but both name as defendants the Diocese of Stockton as well as the Irish Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly. The Irish archdiocese first trained O’Grady for the priesthood, and the plaintiffs, who both say they were abused by O’Grady, contend that Irish church officials knew he was a pedophile before they ordained him and sent him to California.
In December, a California judge denied the U.S. plaintiff the legal jurisdiction to sue the Irish archdiocese. That decision is being appealed. Attorneys for the Irishman say they will file suit by the end of the month.
Stockton attorney Larry Drivon, who tried the 1998 case that sent O’Grady to prison and has been involved in 425 clergy abuse cases in California, said that, although the film isn’t likely to influence new litigation, it presented a damning portrait of Mahony. At the same time, he said, the movie reinforces the public understanding of clergy abuse and will encourage victims to report it more often.
“I believe that there are children yet to be born who will never be molested because of the impact that this movie will have,” he said.
In the film, O’Grady says he was himself sexually abused by clergy and that he repeatedly, over decades, reported his attraction to children to his superiors.
Yet O’Grady was never removed from service despite reports of his abuse that came from police, counselors and parishioners in Stockton, Lodi and Turlock. Instead, he was transferred and promoted.
The film details how, as bishop of Stockton, Mahony inherited O’Grady, who had admitted years earlier to molesting an 11-year-old girl. In 1984, he sent O’Grady for evaluation to a local psychiatrist, who said the priest had a “severe defect in maturation” and suggested that “perhaps Oliver is not truly called to the priesthood.” Still, Mahony promoted O’Grady to serve as pastor of a rural parish, where he molested three victims.
In a 2004 videotaped deposition, portions of which are included in the film, Mahony said he knew nothing of the abuse, only reports of O’Grady’s attraction to children. Mahony goes on to state that a priest would not automatically be removed from duty for expressing sexual urges toward a 9-year-old.
The L.A. Archdiocese strongly disagrees with the film’s portrayal of Mahony’s supervision of O’Grady. Archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said in an e-mail that director Berg’s “accusations against the church, specifically Cardinal Mahony, are deliberately misleading. The film is far from a full and accurate account of what happened and is, instead, the self-serving recollections of a manipulative (as O’Grady admits in the film) criminal.”
The allegations of abuse that have recently surfaced date back 37 years, and some are corroborated by O’Grady’s statements in “Deliver Us From Evil” and in letters he wrote to victims.
“People are scared, and when this movie comes out they’re going to be more scared if he’s still around, walking the streets,” said a 47-year-old Irishman, who claims O’Grady abused him in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he was an altar boy in Limerick and O’Grady was studying at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Thurles. “At the end of the day, things will stack up against him.... It’s a small country and very parochial. Things can hit the headlines and hit home very fast.” He is pursuing a civil suit against O’Grady.
Ann Jyono of Lodi, who details years of manipulation and abuse by O’Grady in “Deliver Us From Evil,” says O’Grady abused her during a visit with her parents to Limerick in the 1970s. She plans to file a criminal complaint against O’Grady with Irish authorities. If tried and convicted, O’Grady could land back in prison in Ireland.
Letters of apology
In one of the film’s more chilling scenes, O’Grady talks of sending letters of apology to several of his California victims. In talking about the correspondence, O’Grady romanticizes his crimes, even suggesting that his victims might look forward to hearing from him. Another former Lodi parishioner, now a 41-year-old man with two young sons, filed a civil lawsuit in December after Berg passed along O’Grady’s letter of apology.
The man, named in the suit as “John DHD Doe,” claims he suffered three years of sexual abuse, from ages 8 to 11, episodes that always took place in the rectory. O’Grady’s letter was the proof he said he needed to tell his family.
“I can’t even put into words how angry that makes me,” he said in a recent phone call. “I’m starting to well up here. I can’t speak.”
In exchange for an $800 monthly stipend from the Stockton Diocese that will begin at age 65, O’Grady voluntarily left the priesthood. He was deported to Ireland in 2001 and lived in Thurles for four years, receiving regular psychiatric treatment for pedophilia from the Grenada Institute in Dublin. The Stockton Diocese paid for O’Grady’s therapy. After clips from O’Grady’s 2005 deposition were broadcast in Ireland, O’Grady disappeared. In the film, he’s shown walking the streets of Dublin, a suitcase in hand. Irish reporters tracked him down last fall when “Deliver Us From Evil” was released in the U.S. He was living in a modest Dublin flat.
O’Grady seemed to welcome the attention. He told reporters from the Irish Mirror that he would voluntarily sign on to the national Sex Offenders’ Registry (he wasn’t listed, for reasons that aren’t clear) and that he had stopped abusing children. And though he lived just yards away from a playground, he told the newspaper, “I take precautions to make sure I do not come in contact with children.... I often see children on buses and then it dawns on me, ‘Cripes, I’m on a bus with kids,’ but I’m not a threat.”
One newspaper article declared O’Grady as “worse than Charles Manson or Jack the Ripper.” After these reports, O’Grady disappeared again.
In mid-December, he turned up at an art supply shop north of Dublin, reportedly asking the owner for “colored paper that kids use.” The store owner recognized him and refused to sell it to him.
L.A. probe continues
Back in the U.S., the criminal investigation of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and Mahony continues now that the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office won a four-year legal battle to gain access to clergy personnel records.
“We want people to know we’re still looking at it,” said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. “We were stymied for a long time because of the archdiocese’s fight to prevent the records being turned over. The investigation is back on track.”