The Army of God

How a monk, an altar boy, and a sex-abuse victim joined forces to battle their common enemy: the Catholic Church

Photo by Jeanne Rice"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."

Mathew 5:6 In 1996, the week before his fall final exams, University of San Diego student Ryan DiMaria called his father to tell him he was going to commit suicide. "I told my dad not to worry — I would pay all my bills, deal with all the things that needed to be dealt with. And then I would kill myself in two weeks," he says.

DiMaria, a Laguna Hills resident and Santa Margarita High School graduate, had already spent most of his college years "doing reckless things to die" — smoking like a Victorian-era factory, going 85 mph whether up and down Interstate 5 or on the streets of South County, and drinking heavily. When DiMaria made the morning call to his father, he was already on his 10th beer, with the empties littered across his dorm room floor. Ryan's father begged for an explanation, but his son refused. DiMaria's roommate grabbed the phone from Ryan and told the father to drive down from Orange County immediately — Ryan was sobbing uncontrollably. The roommate hung up and called DiMaria's brother, who lived in nearby La Jolla, and told him to rush over.

Nearly 2,000 miles away, Patrick Wall had become the Catholic Church's fixer. The 31-year-old monk had risen quickly through the ranks of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis by doing exactly what his superiors ordered — assuming control of parishes wracked with sex-abuse and embezzlement scandals, fixing things just enough that parishioners would continue giving alms, and then moving on to the next job. Because of his gentle manner, archdiocese officials wanted to make Wall their point man on all sex-abuse cases. Wall's prime directive: deny everything.

Meanwhile, John Manly had just opened his first law office specializing in real-estate cases. Manly attended Mass regularly at St. Catherine of Siena in Laguna Beach and counted Republican Party bigwigs as close friends. A career in politics was on the horizon, a possibility Manly had banked on since graduating from Mater Dei during the early 1980s. None of these men knew the others existed. But soon after DiMaria's brother rushed over to Ryan's dorm and Ryan tearfully confessed that a priest had molested him as a child, the lives of DiMaria, Manly and Wall changed forever. And so did the course of the Orange County Catholic Church. THE SOLDIERS OF GOD — It's a ritual that Ryan DiMaria, John Manly and Patrick Wall have followed every morning for the past year: they buy coffee, enter a spacious conference room and read child-rape stories. The three work for Manly & McGuire, a Costa Mesa law firm that primarily deals with real-estate law — Manly and DiMaria as lawyers, Wall as their research coordinator. However, for the past year and a half, Manly & McGuire has pursued more than 40 lawsuits against the Diocese of Orange, each alleging systematic sexual abuse of children by priests over the diocese's 29-year history. The stories are horrific: stories of child-priest orgies, of clerics employing holy oils as lubrication for attempted sodomy, of Church officials knowingly accepting pederastic priests from other diocese, then shuffling them from parish to parish whenever new accusations arose.

For the past 18 months, Manly & McGuire teamed with other lawyers to settle all alleged sex-abuse cases with the diocese for an amount that Church officials admitted would fall between $40 million and $85 million. It would've been the second-largest sex-abuse settlement in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, following only the Boston archdiocese. But talks abruptly broke off on July 22, with both sides blaming the other for the impasse. Now DiMaria, Manly and Wall prepare for what might be the most difficult time of their lives: they plan to depose anyone even remotely associated with the Orange diocese sex scandal and release the depositions to the public, with the hope of crippling the Orange diocese for decades. Because of this, the Orange diocese hierarchy has declared war against the three men. They've banned the three from Church events, lambasted them in press releases, and insulted them in public and in private.

In an editorial for the official Orange diocese newspaper, The Orange County Catholic, former bishop Norman McFarland once derided their efforts to take on the cases of alleged sex-abuse victims as the work of "rank amateurs." When the producers of ABC's Nightline asked one of Manly's clients to appear on their show, Orange diocese spokesman Father Joe Fenton threatened to keep Bishop Tod D. Brown off the program. Fenton once screamed at Wall and DiMaria to leave a press conference announcing the diocese's friendlier stance toward sex-abuse survivors. Why the persecution? Maybe it's because Manly likens the Orange diocese to Big Tobacco in TV and newspaper interviews. Maybe it's because Wall demands Church officials make public documents that he alleges prove Church complicity in sex-abuse cases. Maybe it's because DiMaria won a $5.2 million settlement against the Orange diocese in 2001 in which he alleged that one of the most popular priests in Orange County history molested him. Or maybe the Orange diocese despises the three because DiMaria, Manly and Wall are the Catholic Church. DiMaria and Manly are products of Orange County's parochial school system — DiMaria graduated from Santa Margarita High, Manly attended Mater Dei. Wall is a former Benedictine monk. None of them attends Mass anymore, but taking the Catholic out of them is impossible. Their knowledge of Church policy, thanks to Catholicism's insistence on indoctrinating the faithful, gives them an advantage against the diocese that few other law firms suing Catholic diocese across the nation possess: experience. It's as if the personal journeys of DiMaria, Manly and Wall were predestined: learn the beauty of Catholicism; suffer horrendous pain at its hands; and emerge with a commitment to return the world's largest religion to its original, holy mission — by suing the hell out of it, a resurrection by litigation. These are the true believers, even if none would ever admit to it. They are fishers of truth, of justice, all in the name of Jesus. "Catholicism is not just religion — it's a cultural and coping mechanism," Manly says. "We're taught that you're in mortal sin if you don't attend church and that if you die without repenting, you're going straight to hell. But what do you do when the people who teach you this are rotten to the core?" THE SURVIVOR What DiMaria told his father and brother back in 1996 was simply unbelievable. A couple of years before, DiMaria went to see Phantom of the Operawith Father Michael Harris, then-principal of Santa Margarita High. Afterward, Harris took DiMaria to his private residence, where the priest proceeded to orally copulate the teen. Harris continued to molest DiMaria on and off for years, always justifying his actions by telling DiMaria that he thought Ryan "needed some extra TLC."

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