Even the simplest facts presented in the film are problematic. Director Amy Berg published several falsehoods on the screen that appear as captions:
- “Over 100,000 victims of clergy sexual abuse have come forward in the United States alone”: The 2004 John Jay study, the most comprehensive study ever done on the issue of Catholic cleric abuse in the United States, found that only one tenth of that number, 10,667, have made such allegations. And the study included all accusations going back to 1950, a period of over a half a century. And in that same period, there were less than 110,000 men serving as Catholic priests in the U.S. For the film’s outrageous claim to be true, there would be one victim for nearly every priest who ever served in that period. Berg’s claim is preposterous for sure.
- “President Bush granted the Pope immunity from prosecution”: President Bush didn’t “grant” anybody anything. The United States has recognized the Holy See as a state since 1984. As the head of state, the Pope cannot be called to a trial in another country in the same way that a lawyer in another country cannot simply call in our President. Heads of state have immunity.
- “Oliver O’Grady is still roaming free in Ireland”: The claim on its surface is true, but the implication is that the Church should have an eye on him. The truth is that the Church laicized O’Grady. (It means that he is no longer a priest, that he is just a regular citizen. This is a common request by abuse victims.) The Church has no oversight over O’Grady than it has over any other private citizen in the country. The fact that O’Grady is “roaming free in Ireland” should be a criticism of the Irish government, not the Catholic Church.
- “Cardinal Roger Mahony is still in office fighting sexual abuse allegations against 556 priests in his (Los Angeles) diocese”: “556”? Try 254, less than half of Berg’s claim. And those are 254 priests with accusations dating back to 1930. Nearly thirty percent of the 254 priests were deceased at the time of their accusation.
- “The Catholic Church declined to be interviewed for this documentary”: If the topic of the film weren’t so sickening, this line would be comical. “The Catholic Church”? “Declined”? Reviewer Grant Gallicho for Religion News Service rightly asked, “Which part?” The Pope? A cardinal? A bishop? Amy Berg doesn’t tell us. Gallicho asked the chairwoman of the Church’s national lay review board, which has spent as much time as anybody addressing abuse cases, if filmmakers had contacted the group. They had not. But judging from the final product of the film, any Church officials would surely have been portrayed unfairly and in the most unflattering way.
Yet probably the most unprincipled contrivance in the film is when the filmmakers and their accomplice, Fr. Thomas Doyle, cajole now-adult victims of O’Grady into thinking that they can travel to the Vatican unannounced and meet Church “hierarchy” (the Pope, maybe?). Preying on the terrible pain and awful abuse that O’Grady caused, Berg and Fr. Doyle lead the victims into thinking that they could simply write a letter to the Vatican, show up at the front doors, and possibly meet the Holy Father. Needless to say, this doesn’t happen. The film catalogs the disappointment, and the victims are pained even further.
This is Hollywood exploitation at its ugliest. As a Catholic priest, Fr. Doyle would know more than anyone that citizens cannot merely show up at the Vatican without an appointment and meet high-level administrators. This would be about as likely as walking up to the White House uninvited, being escorted inside, and being able to meet with the Vice President. When Doyle’s maneuver fails, he claims that the Church “rejected [the victims],” “abused them,” and “[made] them out to be enemies of the Church.”
The obvious goal of Berg was to anger viewers further in their distaste for the Catholic Church for “turning away” abuse victims. But any clear-thinking viewer would direct his or her anger at Berg for exploiting people’s hopes, vulnerabilities, and pains.