5 most damning films about Catholic child abuse
The clergy child-abuse scandal roiling the Roman Catholic church hasn't always been front-page news, but, over the years, it's been thoroughly recorded on film. Here's how five acclaimed documentaries or fact-based docudramas have deftly handled the explosive topic since 1992:
1. Deliver Us From Evil (2006)
Amy Berg's "sometimes sickening but vitally relevant" documentary focuses on now-defrocked priest Oliver O'Grady, who admitted to molesting roughly 25 boys and girls in California from the late 1970s to 1991. After seven years in jail, he was deported to Ireland in 2000. The film's "most disturbing element," says Desson Thompson in The Washington Post, is Berg's interview with O'Grady in Dublin; the "remorseless child molester" is "ambling freely among schoolchildren as he recounts his patterns of abuse with almost cheery glee."
Church official implicated: Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles
2. The Boys of St. Vincent (1992) [WARNING: partial nudity]
Dramatizing real-life sexual and physical abuses of boys at a Christian Brothers orphanage in Newfoundland, this film focuses on 10-year-old orphan Kevin Reevey and Brother Peter Lavin (Henry Czerny), the sadistic pedophile who heads the orphanage. The "emotionally devastating" story is told with "a matter-of-factness that gives it the solid credibility of a documentary," says Janet Maslin in The New York Times. It's all the more "shocking," and powerful, says Jeannette Sloniowski at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, because it "asks the audience to understand Lavin, and even gives the audience his point of view as he molests Kevin."
Church officials implicated: The Christian Brothers at Mount Cashel Orphanage and the Newfoundland diocese
3. Hand of God (2006, shown on PBS's Frontline in 2007)
Exposing the effects of child-molestation on a family, filmmaker Joe Cultrera tells the story of his brother Paul's investigation into the Boston archdiocese's mishandling of his accused molester, Fr. Joseph Birmingham. The sometimes "florid" film is a "stinging denunciation of the Catholic Church," says New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley, but "it's also a celebration of the family that survived the ordeal," especially Paul's parents, who "revered the church but loved their children more."
Church official implicated: Bishop John McCormack of Manchester, NH; Cardinal Bernard Law, former Archbishop of Boston
4. Sex Crimes of the Vatican (2006)
This Irish documentary takes direct aim at Pope Benedict XVI, charging that he covered up scores of sexual abuse cases during his 20 years as Vatican doctrine enforcer under Pope John Paul II. It further claims that a secret 1962 Vatican document, "Crimen Sollicitationis," ordered bishops to enforce silence in sex abuse matters. The BBC-produced documentary is narrated by advocate Colm O'Gorman, who was raped at age 14 by notorious Irish priest Sean Fortune.
Church officials implicated: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI; retired Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Fern, Ireland
5. Twist of Faith (2004) [WARNING: graphic language]
Toledo firefighter Tony Comes began actively dealing with his adolescent sexual abuse after he and his young family moved into a house that, coincidentally, was five doors down from the home of his alleged abuser, former priest Dennis Gray. As Comes' lawsuit against Gray drags on, an increasingly bitter Comes comes unglued, says Matthew Gilbert in The Boston Globe. But this Academy-Award-nominated film "is about scars, not about erasing them." Much of the footage was shot by the Comes family themselves with camcorders supplied by filmmaker Kirby Dick.
Church official implicated: Bishop James Hoffman of Toledo (d. 2003)