Deliver Us From Evil Spotlights Women Victims of Priest Abuse
Amy Berg’s riveting documentary, Deliver Us From Evil, makes it abundantly clear how deeply the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has wounded women. By focusing on two women victims and one utterly sociopathic, ruthless, and seductive pedophile named Oliver O’Grady—“Father Ollie” to those who loved and trusted him—the film takes us deeper into this scandal than we have gone, or could bear to go, before.
When the Church’s sex abuse crisis burst onto the scene in 2002, the victimization of girls by Catholic priests remained invisible, or at most, a footnote. Yet, there was never a question that girls as well as boys have been the tortured victims of these abusers. The women featured in Berg’s film, adults now, are Ann Jyono and Nancy Sloan. Father Ollie became an intimate friend of both their families, a respected guest in their homes, a trusted caretaker of the girls. The Jyono family had no idea what O’Grady had been up to with Ann until years after he left their lives. Ann’s father, Bob Jyoni, tells us what that was. Sobbing, he rails against calling the man who harmed his daughter beginning at the age of five a molester, demanding instead that he be called “what he really is…a rapist!”
Nancy Sloan was nearing puberty when she met O’Grady at Catholic camp. Impressed by his fondness for Nancy, her parents invited him into their lives. One weekend, he took Nancy on a trip that turned into a visit to hell. He molested Sloan for four days, her last memory of him being “severe pain” while he was trying to penetrate an eleven year old, she told me. Sloan’s family made a formal complaint to the parish priest, which began the hierarchy’s now familiar process of playing Russian roulette with pedophiles. Diocesan leaders—including Roger Mahony, now head of the Church’s largest diocese, in Los Angeles, and a master stonewaller in terms of turning over information on abusers to authorities—began to move O’Grady from parish to parish, enabling him to rape and sodomize more and more children. His youngest victim on record: a nine-month-old girl.
A survey commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice reported that just under 20% of the 10,000 children sexually abused by nearly 4,400 clerics from 1950 to 2002 were girls. While 20% is enough to demand serious attention—which women victims have not received—those numbers may significantly underestimate the crime’s occurrence.
Church authorities do not view the abuse of girls the same way they view the abuse of boys. In a taped deposition featured in the film, when asked why he never told the police about the abuse of Nancy Sloan when new charges emerged against O’Grady for abusing a boy, a Mahony aide, Monsignor James Cain, says, “I didn’t correlate them. One was a girl inappropriately touched; the other was a boy. I didn’t hook them up in my own mind.”
The Church still refuses to hook them up. In 2003, for example, Bridgeport, Connecticut Bishop William Lori decided to retain in the ministry Monsignor Martin Ryan, a parish priest who back in the 1970s was accused of attempting to force himself on a teenage minor, the parish organist, by inviting her into the rectory, grabbing her by the wrist, cornering her, and forcibly French kissing and groping her before she was able to break free and run away. Lori made that decision even though the diocese’s own investigation turned up two other girls—a high school senior and a college sophomore—who said they had similar experiences with Ryan. “He’s not a predator,” Lori told the press, “He’s not at all a threat to young people.” The diocesan spokesman allowed that Ryan “may have had celibacy issues.”
The probable underreporting of abuse of teenage girls may also be related to a tendency of Church authorities to blame female victims. As psychologist Gary Schoener told me: “In a deposition, if you’ve got any [female] over the age of 12, you can bet she’s going to be called seductive…I’ve never heard a boy accused of being seductive, ever. The issue of holding the woman accountable or blaming her [is] lurking just below the surface, and it presents a tremendous obstacle to overcome.”
That attitude may well have skewed the data in the bishops’ survey. The number of girls exceeded the number of boys in only one category of victims: children aged one to seven. Parents may have found it easier to report a crime against girls that young. Conversely, the number of boy victims outnumbered female victims by nearly six to one from the ages of 11 to 17, when the blame-game really kicks in. If Church officials today are unwilling to see teenage girls as victims, it seems plausible that diocesan authorities in decades past conveyed that message, making it difficult for families to report the abuse of older girls.
Women, the invisible victims, also remain invisible as leaders of the movement demanding justice, compassion, and accountability from the Church for these crimes. Berg has helped matters by presenting the voices of two women who tell their harrowing stories with great courage. One of them, Nancy Sloan, has long been a leader of SNAP, the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests. Founded by survivor Barbara Blaine, SNAP has become the most articulate, relentless, informed, and powerful voice for clergy sex abuse survivors nationwide. These women may once have been victims. They are victims no longer.