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

In May, Manly helped settle a lawsuit by six Alaskan men against the Jesuits who claimed priests molested them as children on Eskimo reservations during the 1950s. In June, he got Placentia native and former Tucson Bishop Manuel D. Moreno to admit he had allowed child-molesting priests to take Tucson-area children on unsupervised trips to Disneyland. "When I attended USC, I went to two silent retreats in Arizona for young men considering the priesthood," Manly recalls. "I just didn't think that that was my calling. But this is different. Doing this work is my vocation . . . I love my faith, but I loathe what the hierarchy has done to it." Manly says he'll remain Catholic forever — "You can't just turn Protestant" — and attended Mass at his childhood parish, Our Lady Queen of Angels in Newport Beach, as late as last year. His wife and three children still attend from time to time. But Manly can no longer bring himself to go. He points to a portrait of St. Thomas More in his office. More — executed in 1535 at the orders of the English King Henry VII for speaking out against corruption — is the patron saint of lawyers and the man for whom the nationwide Catholic lawyers fraternity is named. "St. Thomas More knew what he believed in and kept the faith despite what everyone said," says Manly, who once belonged to the St. Thomas More Society. He stays quiet for a bit. "But how do I explain to my children what I know and still sit in the pews? It's a feeling of loss. I'm in a spiritual desert. I have two young ones who aren't baptized . . . I don't know what to do. I have memories of great priests who were my teachers, my mentors. Now I look back and think, 'What do I do with those memories as an adult?'" "He has such an overwhelming sense of betrayal," says Joelle Casteix, a 33-year-old Corona del Mar resident and one of Manly's clients who claims a choir teacher abused her while she attended Mater Dei High during the late 1980s. "It's like finding out when you're 35 that there's no Santa Claus. Your whole world is destroyed."

THE LEVELER Shortly after the DiMaria settlement, Manly wrote an op-ed piece in the Sept. 30, 2001, Los Angeles Times. In it, he demanded the Orange diocese stop acting like "the tobacco industry [rather] than like the successors to the apostles that they are supposed to be" when dealing with abusive priests and sex-abuse survivors. "In most other organizations, be they civil, religious or military, when scandals of this sort erupt, the leaders of the organizations are held responsible and resign or are relieved, even if they are not directly at fault," Manly wrote. "Catholics must demand the same level of accountability from their bishops and protest publicly if the bishops do not comply."

Manly's contribution to the Times sparked an overwhelming response — most of it bad. People left haranguing messages on Manly's law-office voice mail, wishing him eternal damnation. But one of the messages came from a former monk turned freight-sales representative named Patrick Wall who glanced over the commentary while relaxing on the beach in Dana Point one Sunday morning. The following day, Wall called Manly before going to work. Like Manly, Wall is 38. He is Manly's confidante, accompanying him around the country as Manly deposes various Church officials. Wall isn't a lawyer, but rather a researcher for Manly & McGuire, but today, as Manly yammers on his cell phone—he's speaking with an Arizona reporter about the Portland archdiocese bankruptcy — Wall makes his own quiet calls. Even-keeled, speaking in a quiet sonorous baritone that's like a softly blown trumpet, he tells a San Diego lawyer that the Portland decision means "this is a new game, dude. Nothing like this has ever happened before in the American Catholic Church. Do you understand the implications? Now we're going to know everything about what happened up there." Wall listens for a while, nods his head silently and says again, "This is a whole new game." The elevator reaches the 12th-story Manly & McGuire offices. Manly and Wall split up, entering their respective offices. Whereas Manly occupies the corner office, Wall's space consists of a chair, a counter, a beautiful view overlooking verdant bean fields, and stacks and stacks of paper — evidence pertaining to various sexual-abuse cases, binders bursting with personal histories of suspected child-molesting priests, and drawers with even more papers and archives pertaining to lawsuits. On top of one of those stacks is an obscure 11th-century text, the Book of Gomorrah. St. Peter Damian wrote the study in 1048 A.D. at the request of Pope Leo IX, who feared that priests were using their clerical power to solicit sex from parishioners. Although most of the book is a rant against the evils of homosexuality, the Book of Gomorrah has compelled the interest of medieval and theological scholars since it was one of the first acknowledgements by the Vatican that sexual abuse, especially against children, could irreparably harm Catholicism. Consider the following passage: For Truth says, "Whoever scandalizes one of these little ones, it were better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." Unless the strength of the Apostolic See intervenes as soon as possible, there is not doubt but that this unbridled wickedness, even though it should wish to be restrained, will be unable to stop on its headlong course." "It was the first clear report to the Holy Father that there was a massive problem with priests soliciting sex," Wall says of the Book of Gomorrah. "The Pope asked for a report, and St. Peter Damian came back with it. And what happened? They did not follow the recommendations. As Ecclesiastes once put it, there's nothing new in history, so I hope that no one thinks these most recent sex-abuse allegations are something novel." Manly walks in to hear Wall preach. "He's just talking his usual ecclesiastical racket," he chortles. Manly is only joking. Later — with Wall out of earshot — Manly marvels about his employee. "The man is amazing," Manly says. "If it weren't for him, we wouldn't be in the place we're at today. And I'm not bullshitting — I really mean it. We'd probably have nothing if it weren't for Pat." It's mostly because of Wall that Manly & McGuire has advanced to this showdown with the Orange diocese. As a former monk, Wall knows well the byzantine legal proceedings of the Catholic Church and, more important, knows how the hierarchy conducts its cover-ups. He pores over documents, drafts document requests to the Orange diocese for specific records on priests, and then meets with Manly and DiMaria on how they can best use his findings. Wall's trained eye catches significance in seeming banality. For example, he opens up the Catholic Directory, an annual publication that lists the location of every American Catholic priest, and flips to a highlighted entry. Nothing seemingly remarkable at first glance: a priest's name, his home parish and a slew of acronyms. But Wall suddenly jabs his stubby finger at the legend "R.R." "He served on the Rota Romana!" Wall gasps, referring to a Vatican-based tribunal that tries clerical sexual-abuse cases. "And now he's in a small church! It would be like transferring Sandra Day O'Connor from the Supreme Court bench to a desert town. This is overkill — this is evidence something isn't just wrong, it's drastically wrong. And this is what we find again and again and again."

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