Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Writer-director Amy Berg Delivers The Goods on Clergy Abuse
Expanded Edition of 11-01-06 WCT Interview
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Deliver Us From Evil writer-director Berg, Oliver O'Grady, ex-priest and convicted pedophile is the centerpiece of Berg's searing
documentary, Ann Jyono and Nancy Sloan, two survivors of O'Grady's abuse, praying at St. Peter's in Rome
Amy Berg was an Emmy award winning news producer for CBS and CNN news. Her hard hitting investigative pieces have focused on
women in prison, toxic pollutants, battered women, and poverty. But the issue of clergy abuse had a particular resonance for her.
When Berg contacted a notorious pedophilia, the former priest Oliver O’Grady, who had been deported to his native Ireland after
serving seven years after being convicted of sexual abuse, astoundingly he eventually agreed to participate in a film on the subject.
Berg’s resulting documentary, Deliver Us From Evil, presents not just a portrait of O’Grady, several of his victims, their families, and
advocates for change, it delivers a searing indictment of the Catholic Church’s continued refusal to deal with the issue.
In person Berg is a delightful contrast to her subject matter. Bright, articulate, and warm, after her grueling five years of work on the
project, she delightedly confessed that the press tour for the movie offered a nice respite before diving into her next heavy duty
project. Highlights from our conversation:
WCT: This was one of the hardest films I’ve ever sat through because, as you know, O’Grady is so likeable. He’s one of the most
compelling villains I’ve ever seen in a movie.
AB: Yes, yes.
WCT: You want to hug him but then when he starts to talk about what turns him on and that scene in the park where he's looking at
the children is so ironic and horrifying. So, first of all, why did he agree to make the film? Is he just so disassociated from what he
did? Is he like this extreme narcissist?
AB: It’s hard to answer that question because I can’t get into his mind but I know that he wanted to do the film for a number of
reasons and I think some of them are what you just said. He’s not very connected to his abuse, he had this urge to apologize but
more than that I think it was the hypocrisy of his superiors that were climbing in power and seeing them in their glory while he was
kind of left with a very invisible life, I guess. This felt like something important for him. And I think it is important – his story is
very important because it shows how this Foley thing happened. It shows how we hide the problem.
The reason I wanted to interview him was because of that statement issued by the Church in the summer of 2004 that they were
going to get rid of all the homosexuals in the Church. I knew that people were going to believe that. Because people do believe
that the reason why the Catholic Church is corrupted is because of homosexuality. I knew that they were playing this really well and
I also knew that there was not a single study that links the two things together – pedophilia and homosexuality. I knew that I
needed to explore that and show that that was not the case so Oliver O’Grady was the perfect person to go down that road with.
WCT: So you got his phone number and called and he answered the phone and what did you say?
AB: I called him and said, “I just did a story that aired on CNN and I’m a freelance producer and have done a number of stories on
the Catholic Church and I’ve interviewed people that said you abused them” and I went on to tell him my whole spiel and he was
very interested in the fact that I had spoken to his victims. I told him that I was really interested in doing something and he said,
“Well, I’ve always wanted to do my life story but I don’t know if I’m ready.” So I booked a trip over there and he came and met
me. I spent the day with him in Ireland and we spent five hours together and by the end of the day he said, “You know, I want to
work with you. I just don’t know how and when so let’s talk on the phone and you can record the conversations until I decide.” Five
months later he decided he wanted to do it and it was every week for five months that we were talking.
WCT: I know that you had this background where you had done several heavy subjects for TV and this one before but to spend their
kind of time must have been very difficult. Was there a duality at play – “I’m so repulsed but at the same time this is so amazing
that I’m getting him to talk bout this.”
AB: Yes! I mean I remember – and this isn’t something I’ve said to anyone else – a couple of times when I couldn’t call him at the
scheduled time he was very upset. He was really counting on these phone calls with me and it was a part of my life but it wasn’t
generating any income for me and I didn’t know where it was going.
WCT: Well, it’s a chance for that person to tell their story to a supposedly sympathetic ear; a chance to say, “This is my side and
this is how I feel.”
AB: And it empowers them.
WCT: Right and there’s always that narcissism that becomes part of it, too.
AB: And with a priest even more so because he’s coming from that very egocentric lifestyle.
WCT: How did the apology letter that he wrote to the victims come about?
AB: He wanted to apologize. He thought this was the opportunity to do that and he actually thought these people would come over
and see him.
WCT: That’s a point in the movie where the mind just boggles. I kept flashing on that moment in the courtroom where Jeffrey
Dahmer at his sentencing said, “I’m so very sorry for what I did” as if someone could apologize politely for something so heinous.
How can someone apologize for raping a nine month old baby?
AB: Yes and I remember that when I first found that place for the letter (in the film) and it was all coming together I remember the
feeling of being on an elevator and the floor just dropping out and you’re like, “Holy shit, where’s this going?!” Because it’s so crazy
and it becomes a horror story at that point. So yes, he came up with that idea. The only one that was seriously considering taking
him up on it was Ann. Nancy would have gone to stand next to Ann and there’s no way Adam would have gone. He would have
killed him. That was part of his thing that we wanted to do. Then when we went to the park and there were kids around – have you
been to Ireland?
WCT: I have not.
AB: It’s a real “park” culture. People bring sack lunches to work and they’re all in the park every day and this is the way they live
and I wanted to walk around the city with him and show what his life is like mixing with people because that’s what his life is today.
There was no exploitation, no staging, none of that. He was just walking through the park and there were kids behind us; we could
hear their voices and I was like, “How does this make you feel?” and he said, “Well, I feel safe because I’m with you. I’m not
feeling anything. I’m fine” and I really believe at that point he was but had we not been there, who knows what would have
WCT: You must have felt, “I need to alert someone that he’s here” or no?
AB: I did. I alerted the authorities. I brought my video and the evidence of his case history and the letters he wrote. We went and
met someone from the Labour Party, Tom Doyle (an activist priest working for abuse victim’s rights that is interviewed in the film)
and I did. Then she wrote a letter to the Parliament to alert them of his situation and I’ve not heard anything from her.
WCT: Well you have to assume, hope that somebody will keep a watch on this guy.
AB: Well he can’t escape. The media has since gotten his face on every paper.
WCT: Then you juxtapose a lot of footage with survivors and the scene with the parents of one victim in particular is very
emotional. When her father lashes out – it’s just heart wrenching – “This is not abuse. This is rape. He raped her.” It was tough to
see but I thought, “Thank you someone for finally calling it was it is and not softening the brutality of this crime.” It’s not
“inappropriate,” it’s “rape.”
AB: Right. The Church kind of rests on these fluffy terms. It’s the same thing as when I talk about the homosexual-pedophilia
comparison: sex vs. rape – they are NOT the same and I think he explains that very well in that moment. “He’s not a pedophile.
He’s a rapist. He raped my daughter. Period.” You hear “pedophile” and you can’t picture what it is. You hear “rape” and you think
“angry, violent.” “Pedophilia” doesn’t sound angry or violent.
WCT: It doesn’t. In the production notes there’s something about this father’s reaction to the film which I think suggests there
might have been a bit of closure, a ray of hope for that family. Can you discuss that?
AB: Yes, Bob Jyono (the father of the rape victim) before we started filming had this relationship with his daughter where if she
walked in the room he would think to himself, “There it is. There’s all my mistakes. All my guilt” and she would cry and they would
fight and it was horrible. So he called me after seeing the film and he was crying and he said, “Amy I want to thank you. My
daughter was a victim when she met you and now she’s a survivor and that’s because of this” and that was the gift right there. That
was an amazing gift. He’s a great man.
WCT: That moment when he has that breakdown must have been very, very difficult to film.
AB: It was so difficult.
WCT: Did you have times when you said, “I can’t do this anymore?”
AB: Oh yeah, yeah and then I would take a week off here and there. It wasn’t serving the project at one point when I was too
enveloped in it so I would just take a break and they called all the time – the victims, their families, Oliver – and I’d be like, “Oh my
God, it’s Saturday morning, leave me alone!” which is another component of that. I know it’s not their fault but you do sometimes
feel completely wrapped up a bit. But that’s the reason you take a balance.
WCT: It’s very hard to see at the end, of course, that Bush pardoned at the behest of the Vatican the Pope who seems to have
been part of this whitewash but what about Cardinal Roger Mahony, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, who apparently ignored O’Grady’s
history while rising within the Church hierarchy. Will anything happen there?
AB: There is a criminal investigation happening right now in Los Angeles.
WCT: So he may not slip through?
AB: Yes but it would be the first time ever.
WCT: Let’s talk for a moment about the Mark Foley page scandal because this film is very timely. Now a priest has come forward
and admitted to “inappropriate” behavior.
AB: Wasn’t he a little more forthcoming at first and then he started backing off?
WCT: He described the abuse by saying things like he and Foley went skinny dipping together and “I may have touched him” and
there was something about his being on prescription medication and having a memory lapse. Then he was quoted as saying about
Foley, “Why does he want to destroy me in my old age?” What’s your take on that?
AB: I think that there’s some guilt there, obviously, because that’s a victim response but that’s just the mentality in the Church.
Maybe that priest should see Oliver to see how it can go. I think that it’s a perfect example of how this collusion and all these
different corporations – and this is like the government and church working together to cover this problem up. It’s exactly why this
film needs to be out there and it’s exactly why people need to speak out and say this stuff happened much earlier because Mark
Foley has now affected a whole bunch of other people and we won’t even know how many. And then when will they come to terms
WCT: It’s also that they immediately equate homosexuality with pedophilia and as a gay man you just get so sick of hearing this
automatic link being made – and having it parroted back by uninformed people.
AB: Oh, of course.
WCT: With Foley he was gay, then an alcoholic then a pedophile – as if there’s this natural link between them.
AB: Right – “Let’s spin it.”
WCT: Yes and seemingly it’s the same with the Catholic Church.
AB: But the truth is that Mark Foley coming out and saying this is a service to everybody. It’s huge. Foley admitting that this
happened when he was a child is big. I wrote a column about this a couple weeks ago on the Huffington Post. We have a blog on
there. I knew that Foley had been abused by a Catholic priest the minute he said that he had had some kind of incident with a
clergy member. I knew it and I wrote something where I compared the government to the church and some guy responded, “Well
you almost had me until you went with the thing about Foley being abused as a kid.” He was like, “That’s no excuse, get over your
shit” and he got heavy handed about it. I feel like at the end of the day it’s a cycle. We can hate Oliver but we can also look at the
fact that what happened to him (he was also the subject of familial abuse) did have something to do with what he did to others. It’s
just going to keep going on unless we try to stop the cycle and that’s by being honest.
WCT: You also make that very refreshing point in the film how the institution of the Catholic Church itself—
AB: –is so sexualized.
WCT: Yes, yes. How many gay priests have I known who live by that, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and there they are at the bars at
AB: They might be having sex but they’re not molesting children and that’s a whole other issue of sex in the church. I like the
psychologist in the film who points out the Church’s attitude of, “All sex is wrong sex in the Catholic Church and abuse is just another
form of wrong sex.”
WCT: I also thought it was compelling to learn in your film that the Catholic Church has never apologized – not once – for any of
these acts and there are probably, what, thousands of them?
AB: Right. When Nancy Sloan (one of the victims portrayed in the film) was trying to settle her case she said that she wanted an
apology from the Church and she couldn’t get it in her settlement and they’re stalling and stalling and they finally told the judge to
write the apology for her. They won’t sit down and write an apology.
WCT: Between your film, Twist of Faith and Saints & Sinners about the two gay Catholic men that want to get married in the Church –
I’m so glad I’m not a Catholic! (laughs) I feel so badly for Catholics sometimes.
AB: I know.
WCT: Well, it’s an amazing piece of work and congratulations on that.
AB: Thank you, your audience is very important to me. I did this a lot because of that statement that we were talking about earlier
and it’s an important thing that needs to come to light.
MAY, 2007 -- AMY BERG'S HEART WRENCHING DOCUMENTARY IS NOW ON DVD AND SHOULD BE MANDATORY VIEWING FOR
ANYONE WHO DOESN'T UNDERSTAND THE LONG TERM PSYCHOLOGICAL DAMAGE OF SEXUAL ABUSE AND A CLOSER LOOK AT HOW
FAR THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS GONE TO COVER UP THIS SCOURGE IN THEIR CLERGY -- A CENTURIES OLD PROBLEM THAT THEY
STILL REFUSE TO FACE. WITH THE RELEASE OF THE DOCUMENTARY, I WANTED TO AGAIN HIGHLIGHT KATM'S INTERVIEW WITH
BERG AND THE DVD (WHICH INCLUDES A LOT OF FASCINATING BONUS MATERIAL) ITSELF.