A Pedophile Priest Speaks Out
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He was the closest thing to God they knew. Bob Jyono can still picture the priest he and his wife, Maria, called Ollie, a family friend who often spent the night in their Lodi home, saying his morning prayers with a Bible in his hands.
"And all during the night, he's molesting my daughter -- not molesting, raping her! -- at 5 years old,'' wails Jyono in "Deliver Us From Evil.'' It's a devastating documentary about Oliver O'Grady, the notorious pedophile priest who sexually abused children, including a 9-month-old baby, in a string of Central California towns for 20 years -- and the Catholic bishops who moved him from parish to unsuspecting parish, allegedly covering up his crimes.
"For God's sake! How did this happen?'' Jyono cries.
That's one of the questions posed by this wrenching film, which opens at Bay Area theaters Friday. "Deliver Us From Evil" has rekindled long-standing accusations that Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, a powerful church leader who was bishop of the Stockton Diocese from 1980-85, knew O'Grady was a pedophile but failed to keep him away from children.
Directed by former TV news producer Amy Berg, the film is built around chilling interviews with the defrocked priest, who was deported to his native Ireland in 2000 after serving seven years of a 14-year prison sentence prison for committing four "lewd and lascivious'' act with two young brothers. He speaks in a lilting Celtic voice that sounds like Mrs. Doubtfire, making him even creepier. He dispassionately recounts his heinous acts as if describing someone else. He wears a sly smile as he says what arouses him: "How about children in swimsuits? I'd say, yeah. How about children in underwear? I'd say, yeah. How about children naked? Uh-huh, yeah.''
Berg spent eight days interviewing O'Grady in Dublin, where he moved freely about the city, walking through parks where children played, pondering his obsession as he sits in an empty church.
"Basically what I want to say is, it should not have happened,'' says the fallen priest in the film. He told Mahony of his "situation,'' he says, and "I should've been removed and attended to. And he should have then attended to the people I'd harmed. I wish he'd done that.''
He writes letters of apology to his victims and invites them to Ireland for a conciliatory reunion ("God speed, and hope to see you real soon,'' he says with a wink).
In the film, another victim, Adam M., reads the letter in disbelief. "I could kill his mother,'' says the man, pointing to the San Andreas rectory where O'Grady sodomized him. It was Adam M.'s mother who brought the priest into the family home. As she says in the film, "He was the wolf and I was the gatekeeper, and I let the wolf through the gate.''
O'Grady later retracted the invitations and, according to Berg, has fled Ireland in the wake of publicity about the movie. His whereabouts are unknown, a frightening development to those he abused decades ago, who are still haunted by him.
"There's not a day that I don't suffer from what he did to me,'' said Ann Jyono, a 40-year-old insurance agent, on the phone from her Southern California home.
Jyono says O'Grady began molesting her when she was 5 and kept at it until she was 12. Jyono didn't tell her folks for years, until O'Grady was arrested in 1993. She testified at his criminal trial and in a 1998 civil case that cost the Stockton diocese $7 million -- a small fraction of what the Catholic Church has paid out in scores of sexual abuse cases that have scandalized the institution. Jyono's suit was thrown out because of the statute of limitations.
Seeing and hearing O'Grady again, even on film, "was traumatic. I felt like I was 5 again,'' said Jyono, who appears in "Deliver Us From Evil.'' "I was still so afraid of that man. At the same time, I was pleased that his psychotic, narcissistic personality allowed him to tell the truth and show how psychotic he is. I was proud of him: He finally did it, he finally said the words. ... His craziness and his evil were captured onscreen.''
The film also points to the culpability of church officials, like Mahony, who has been named in numerous civil suits by victims of priestly abuse. "They banked on our silence and our shame,'' Jyono said. "That's how they got away with it for so long.''
She and the others were reluctant to tell their stories on camera. But after meeting with Berg, they came to trust her and agreed to participate, painful as it was.
The director had produced stories about the clergy sexual-abuse scandal for CBS and CNN, including a piece about O'Grady that she said left a lot of questions in her mind. She got hold of his phone number and called. To her amazement, he agreed to meet with her. She flew to Ireland, had a series of conversations with him and then flew home to Los Angeles. About five months later, O'Grady agreed to speak on camera.
"He wanted to tell his story,'' Berg, 36, said the other day in a San Francisco hotel suite. "A lot of times I listened in disbelief. But I took it in and allowed it to come onto the video. It's an important story, and I had to stay distanced from it. You could become emotional sitting in front of a pedophile for eight days. It's not a pleasant thing. So I had to stay professional and let him talk. I was kind of shocked by his candor, and then by his inability to understand what he did, the impact of it.''
O'Grady spoke about his transgressions "like he got a flat tire on the way to work, and he turned in the wrong direction,'' Berg continued, "like it was just an occurrence, something that happened; it's not something he did.'' She wants him to watch the movie so he can see what he wrought, but she doesn't know where to send it.
Because of police reports, depositions and other documents, Berg has no doubt that the bishops overseeing O'Grady knew about his actions and chose to cover them up in order to avoid scandal and a stain on their careers.
In 1984, a Stockton police investigation into sexual abuse allegations against O'Grady was reportedly closed after diocese officials promised to remove the priest from any contact with children. Instead, he was reassigned to a parish about 50 miles east, in San Andreas, where he continued to molest kids. Not long after, Mahony was promoted to archbishop of Los Angeles, the largest Catholic diocese in the country. In the film, O'Grady says Mahony was "very supportive and very compassionate'' and that "another situation had been smoothly handled.''
William Hodgman, the Los Angeles deputy district attorney in charge of prosecuting pedophile priests, told the New York Times that the movie "will fuel ongoing considerations as to whether Cardinal Mahony and others engaged in criminal activity.''
Mahony, whose taped depositions in civil cases in 1997 and 2004 appear in the documentary, has denied knowing O'Grady was a serial child molester. Church officials declined to be interviewed for the film, and they say any suggestion that the cardinal is the subject of a criminal investigation is irresponsible. The cardinal's spokesman, Tod Tamberg, has seen "Deliver Us From Evil'' and called it "an obvious anti-church hit piece.''
In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Tamberg said, "Everyone should be saddened by the kind of emotional and spiritual devastation that these kind of child molesters can wreak on individuals and families. That said, this movie is incredibly biased and omits many facts that would've changed the assumption the movie makes.''
The movie, Tamberg added, "is chock full of attorneys and expert witnesses who make millions of dollars every year in abuse litigation against the church. It's a big advertisement for them.''
That's not how Nancy Sloan sees it. She says O'Grady first abused her in 1976 at age 11, and she's never fully recovered.
"The 11-year-old in me is still afraid of him,'' said Sloan, 41, a Fairfield nurse who appears in the film, during a phone interview. O'Grady is the "sick individual'' who sexually abused her, Sloan said -- in his Dodge Duster on Highway 12 two minutes from her home, as well as in a Lodi swimming pool, in the church and rectory. He even fondled her in the state Capitol, which she entered for the first time in 26 years to speak on behalf of a 2003 bill temporarily extending the statute of limitations on sex crimes by clerics.
But "as sad as it may seem, I have felt compassion for him. I have to remember that at some point, he was a little boy who was molested by a priest, and molested by his (older) brother.'' She wonders how that broke him, why he didn't become a survivor who tried to help others rather than someone who "went down the wrong path and turned into a deviant.''
Her anger is mostly directed at the monsignors and bishops who didn't stop him, who told her parents she must've misinterpreted the priest's actions.
"If a miracle could happen, I would love for them to be given 24 hours as a survivor,'' Sloan said. "To have the nightmare that I had two nights ago, waking up over and over and thinking O'Grady was back, and did I lock the door. 'Why didn't I lock the door? O'Grady is coming in.' I'd like for them to have compassion for survivors and not just give lip service.''
Sloan still feels sick whenever she sees a Dodge Duster. "You don't see too many of them anymore; thank God for small favors,'' she said with a laugh. She's no longer a Catholic and doesn't even know what that means. "Do I believe in God? Yes. Do I believe in Jesus? Yes. Do I believe in the Eucharist? Yes. Do I believe in the hierarchy of the church? No. Do I believe in the pope and that he's infallible? Hell no.''
Ann Jyono still goes to church sometimes and cries. The hatred she feels for O'Grady is still a heavy burden, she said. "I could forgive the man if he would commit himself for life to an institution for adults only. I need to know that I don't have to wake up every night with a fright, wondering where he is or if he's hurting other kids.''
She'd like to see Cardinal Mahony removed from his post and get the same treatment as citizens who don't wear the collar. "If my neighbor's son raped a little girl and ran home and told his mother, and she gave him a plane ticket and money and sent him off, she would be arrested for aiding and abetting her son. I just don't understand why the justice system has failed us.''
Then there's her father, a Japanese American Buddhist who converted to Catholicism to marry her Irish-born mother. He no longer believes in God. "The devil snuck into the church and stole my dad's soul, and I want it back,'' Jyono said the other day, crying.
Speaking out in this film has provided some solace.
"I finally found my voice and can talk about it. My father feels like I'm not a victim anymore, that I'm a survivor, on the road to healing. It may take a long, long time, but I think maybe I see light at the end of the tunnel, where I saw only darkness before.''
Used with permission of the San Francisco Chronicle, from "A former priest molested kids in California parishes" by Jesse Hamlin; San Francisco Chronicle; October 25, 2006. Permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.
Jesse Hamlin is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.