By Gustavo Arellano
By OC Weekly Staff
By R. Scott Moxley
By Michelle Woo
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gabriel San Roman
By Gustavo Arellano
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."
Harris was an Orange County icon: nicknamed "Father Hollywood," founder of Santa Margarita High, and a priest so beloved that hundreds held a rally for him the day he resigned as principal of Santa Margarita in 1994 after another student alleged molestation. So it wasn't much of a surprise that when DiMaria's family approached the diocese with the allegation a couple of months after Ryan's revelation, diocesan officials ignored them. "Like dumb Catholics, we went to the Church to solve our problem with them," he says with a laugh. When the Church refused repeated requests that the diocese reimburse DiMaria for his mounting psychotherapy bills, DiMaria's parents decided to pursue a lawsuit. Through a family friend, they arranged a meeting with an attorney — until they discovered the attorney represented Harris. The family friend, a tax attorney, then sent the DiMarias to the law offices of Kathy Freberg and John Manly. Freberg and Manly listened to DiMaria's story and agreed to take on his case. But Manly also warned DiMaria about the potential consequences. It would be a difficult mission — although plaintiffs had won sex-abuse cases against the diocese, Church officials, parishioners and the press skewered these alleged victims as money-hungry liars. And previous lawsuits against Harris quickly disappeared because the plaintiffs couldn't withstand the pressure. Most moved far from the county after the resolution of their cases; some became recluses. DiMaria drove aimlessly around Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach for hours after meeting with Freberg and Manly. Finally, he exited the 55 freeway near Triangle Square, stopped at a gas station and called Manly from a pay phone. DiMaria says, "I just told him, 'Yeah, I want to do this.'"
Another morning, another round of sex-abuse readings in the conference room. Wall begins reading some of the stuff he's discovered in his research — "Off the record," Manly tells me; he insists on this almost every other sentence — when Manly suddenly notices something. "Are you wearing a tie?!" he growls. Indeed, Wall is wearing a paisley, cross-hatched tie. "Take it off, goofball. Dipshit." "John, be nice," DiMaria gasps, as Wall sheepishly, silently takes off the tie and stuffs it into his pockets. "Fuck him," Manly retorts. The chatting suddenly stops — then everyone breaks into laughter before Wall starts reading anew. DiMaria keeps on laughing. At 30, he's the youngest of this group, but in many ways, he also seems more experienced than the others. He certainly looks the part. The hair is smartly coiffed. All his shirts bear the monogram "MRD." The voice is raspy, and the handsome blue eyes turn into daggers when he's provoked. Thing is, DiMaria never imagined becoming a lawyer, especially one who specialized in sex-abuse cases, and definitely not after serving as the plaintiff in one of the largest sex-abuse settlements in the history of the American Catholic Church. His 2001 case against the Orange diocese, DiMaria vs. Harris, remains a landmark in the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal; at that time, it was the largest single-plaintiff pre-trial settlement in the history of the Catholic Church in America. In addition to brokering the $5.2 million amount, Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray also ordered Catholic officials from the Los Angeles Archdiocese and Orange diocese to remove Harris from the priesthood and personally apologize to DiMaria. But more important for DiMaria, Gray also forced both diocese to adopt reforms that DiMaria had personally drafted to guard against priestly sexual molestation: a zero-tolerance policy, an 800 number for victims to report sexual assault, and educational pamphlets for distribution in churches. Eventually, all Catholic diocese in the United States adopted DiMaria's suggestions, reforms that Church officials in Los Angeles and Orange nowadays brazenly pass off as their own idea. But the settlement came after five years of arduous discussions that nearly ruined DiMaria. Orange diocese lawyers demanded DiMaria's psychological records, grilled him in hours-long depositions, and stonewalled whenever DiMaria's side asked for documents crucial to their case. "I remember John told me before we started litigation that the defense attorneys would be cordial to me, try to be my friend," DiMaria says. "But the minute they had a chance, they would slit my throat." One of those lawyers was John Barnett, the articulate, unflappable Orange attorney who's achieved fame throughout the country for taking on seemingly impossible cases. He successfully defended one of the cops in the Rodney King beating and won an acquittal in the recent Gregory Haidl gang-rape trial. Barnett subjected DiMaria to an all-day deposition in the courtroom, calmly but methodically asking DiMaria to retell, over and over, his story of the abuse, of the substance abuse that followed, of his years of pain. DiMaria kept his calm. The Church's error was in thinking the harder they went after DiMaria, the faster he'd crack. "But the opposite happened," DiMaria says. He answered every question Barnett threw at him, never once breaking down on the stand or showing any emotion in public. "It's kind of 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger,'" he says. He urged his lawyers, Manly and Freberg, to pursue the case to its conclusion.
During the depositions, DiMaria was trying to wrap up law school at Chapman University in Orange. He ultimately finished a couple of months before his case was scheduled for trial. Despite the settlement, DiMaria felt empty. "Getting to [the victory against Harris] was very stressful," he says. "You're so used to fighting, and then you have a chance to not fight for a little while. You're not used to relaxing. It's an uneasy feeling." About a year after the settlement, DiMaria and Manly met for lunch. Knowing DiMaria was seeking experience as a law clerk, Manly asked DiMaria to clerk for his new real-estate firm, Manly & McGuire. (Manly left his partnership with Kathy Freberg shortly after the DiMaria case for reasons that Manly says are "off the record.") Manly made the offer partly because of their previous relationship but also because DiMaria knew about building codes, ordinances and other real-estate minutiae; his parents owned trailer parks around Southern California. DiMaria accepted and quickly jumped into the complex world of real-estate law. He was happy. There was no more talk of sex abuse — after DiMaria, Manly hadn't pursued any other Church molestation cases. The firm thought the DiMaria case was a one-shot opportunity, and they were fine with that. But, provoked in large part by DiMaria, a revolution rumbled across Catholic America.
A year after the settlement, the Boston archdiocese admitted to having condoned and covered up priestly pedophilia for decades. Soon, sex-abuse victims across the country began revealing their stories. Their accusations led to the defrocking and arrests of dozens of priests and hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits against diocese nationwide. The ensuing controversy inspired the California Legislature to pass a bill in late 2002 that lifted the statute of limitations on molestation cases in civil suits for all of 2003. Suddenly, anyone could sue the Catholic Church no matter how long ago the alleged sex abuse took place. And then the flood hit. Manly & McGuire received calls from alleged sex-abuse victims in the beginning of 2003 and decided to turn its resources toward research. DiMaria didn't immediately volunteer. "As a testament to what a great guy John is, he never asked until I offered," DiMaria said. That was the spring of 2003, and it wasn't a black-and-white decision for Manly. DiMaria requested a closed-door meeting with Manly and offered his help. "I really want to do this," DiMaria remembers telling Manly. But Manly refused. He feared DiMaria would suffer by working on sex-abuse cases. DiMaria was adamant: he needed this, he said. Manly relented only after DiMaria lobbied him for a month, but only on the condition that DiMaria stick to researching document files. Manly barred DiMaria from speaking directly with sex-abuse victims; DiMaria agreed to the go-slow approach. "When I started doing it, it was an experiment," DiMaria says. "I didn't know if it would destroy me. It hit so close to home, obviously. I still hadn't made the mental transition — I still considered myself a client, not a lawyer. But I think all [sex-abuse] survivors look for job positions where they can exert influence in their life and help others. I know I did. I didn't know if I realized it at the time, but I didn't feel as if I had any real choice in this."
As time went on, however, and as DiMaria gradually spoke with sex-abuse victims, he felt a renewed sense of control over his life. The $5.2 million settlement placed DiMaria and his newlywed wife on a secure financial footing; therapy had given him a measure of control over the horror of his memories. But in working with sex-abuse clients, DiMaria discovered something he'd been lacking, something the Church once provided but couldn't anymore: meaning. "Their interests are my interests," DiMaria says of his sex-abuse clients. "They're perfectly aligned."
When DiMaria passed the Bar Exam in June 2003, and after receiving the okay from DiMaria, Manly put him in charge of fielding calls from sex-abuse victims. Nowadays, DiMaria is the first person to talk to a prospective sex-abuse client. He hears their tale of molestation, gets up to grab the Kleenex box, and tells them his own story. He then offers the following warning: "I'm not going to try to sell you on this. It's very difficult. It could end up hurting you more than helping you." The majority of callers agree to pursue a case. "I met a kid who was suicidal, introverted, desperate, humorless. I now work with a man who's confident, funny and sharp," says Manly about DiMaria. "The only difference is vindication. The biggest issue in [sex-abuse] cases is trust. Most plaintiffs don't have any. But they're willing to believe Ryan because he's been there. He gets people to go where they wouldn't want to. He makes them feel comfortable enough. He was born to do this. Talk about courage — he faces that [sex-abuse] demon every day of his life." THE ALTAR BOY
John Manly felt troubled after he and his partner Kathy Freberg agreed to take on DiMaria's case. He believed DiMaria's story, but he would be warring with the Diocese of Orange, one of the largest diocese in the United States. He says proudly, unreservedly that its parochial-school system made him "the man that I am today." Not only that, Harris was his principal at Mater Dei. And now he was preparing to sue him and the diocese for millions. Manly and Freberg offered numerous settlement proposals — first, $100,000, then a bit more, finally $1 million. The diocese refused each. So Manly did the only thing he could think of: depose anyone and everyone in anticipation of a long and costly trial. He deposed Harris, questioning him about a love letter he once wrote to a teenage boy. He deposed police officers who investigated allegations against Harris and who complained that their superiors told them to lay off the case. Manly even deposed retired Orange Bishop Norman McFarland, getting him to admit that he understood why one of his priests once raped a 15-year-old girl: "Does one make a distinction that she's 15 or 17? She may be very precocious or adult-looking and everything else, and there would be the temptation there." After four and a half years of negotiation and just days before the start of jury selection for the case, the diocese settled for $5.2 million. Though happy that DiMaria won, Manly remained troubled. He never wanted to defy the Church again — the same Church whose Mass he still attended throughout the trial. But the way diocese officials acted during those four years told him the war was far from over.
Tuesday morning, July 6, 2004: the Portland Archdiocese has declared bankruptcy, the first diocese to declare bankruptcy in the history of the American Catholic Church. DiMaria is on vacation — "He's always fucking gone," Manly scoffs; it's a joke because this is DiMaria's first vacation in more than two years. But Wall and Manly are calling everyone they know while descending the elevator for lunch. Manly is typing on his cell phone like a court stenographer, calling lawyers across the country who have similar cases pending against the Catholic Church. "This is a new plateau, bro," Manly beams as he shares the news over the phone with a fellow Church-suing lawyer. "They have their unit in the grinder — and they're not going to be able to get out. "Now the government's going to have access to the personnel files," Manly tells an observer. "And that's what we want in the first place." The personnel files Manly refers to are those kept by all churches on their priests, documenting each cleric's life from ordination until death. In 2002, a Massachusetts court ordered the Boston Archdiocese to release personnel files of its priests at the request of individuals who claimed that Church officials had knowingly protected pedophilic priests. Subsequent revelations confirmed the allegations and led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, the arrests or defrocking of dozens of priests suspected of molesting children, and inspired sex-abuse victims across the country to publicly disclose their cases. Manly wants this, too. His firm is alone among those suing the Diocese of Orange in insisting that no settlement would be complete without the disclosure of those documents. Now with settlement talks over, Manly vows to stand with his clients and start filing individual lawsuits against the Orange diocese demanding the diocese make those personnel files public — "even," he fumes, "if it takes a lifetime." But as he gestures rapidly while using coarser language, something glimmers from inside his shirt. John Manly still wears it around his neck, although he doesn't know why: a silver medallion known as the Miraculous Cross featuring the Madonna with child on the front and the legend "I am a Catholic. Please Call a Priest" engraved on the back. It was a gift Manly received in second grade, around the time his family moved to Santa Ana from northern California during the early 1970s. And he's rarely gone a day without wearing it. It was with him while he served as an altar boy at St. Catherine's Military School in Anaheim, through attending Mater Dei High and USC, and during the entirety of the DiMaria case. Manly still keeps it on today, even as he finds himself comparing Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown to Judas. "Church officials go out and tell everyone that lawyers only want money," Manly says as he fingers the Miraculous Cross. "They treat the victims like enemies. Through my mid-30s, I perceived the Church in a Bells of St. Mary's way: going to Mass, saying the prayers, proud of being a Catholic. But it's not true. And it never was. I believe in Christ's message. But somewhere along the line, something went terribly wrong." When Manly says these words, a pained look passes over his otherwise-intimidating visage.
Thirty-eight years old, Manly is a big man: balding, a former Naval Reserve officer with the mouth to prove it, he stands taller than six feet and easily tips the scales at more than 230 pounds. But get him speaking about the Catholic Church, and sadness seeps in. Manly found it hard to believe the Church suffered from a molestation problem when he first heard DiMaria's story. And even after Manly helped DiMaria win his civil suit, even after Manly and DiMaria drafted the zero-tolerance policy Judge Gray imposed on the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Orange Diocese, Manly stubbornly believed Harris was an anomaly. Manly even convinced his wife to convert to Catholicism in 2002, about a year after the Harris case. By then, Manly had returned to real-estate litigation. "I like doing real-estate law — I'm good at it," Manly remarks with a smile. "And it pays the bills." But the lifting of the statute of limitations by the California Legislature provoked a flurry of calls to Manly. He didn't know what to do. "I honestly had no clue as to how huge the problem was," he says. "I thought it was only Harris. Then [when Boston broke out] and people began calling, I thought it was a big problem, but not a pandemic. Then you make the connections and realize that it is a pandemic. Then you begin hearing the stories. The thing that bugs me the most is that most Catholics think it's just priests in a weak moment grabbing a butt or fondling a penis. It was more. "I was stupid," Manly concludes. "I really thought the Orange diocese was going to do something about sex-abuse cases."
Manly remembers a meeting in Orange County Superior Court shortly after DiMaria's settlement. Judge Gray had ordered the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Orange to offer DiMaria an apology in person. Representatives for Cardinal Roger Mahoney attended, as did Orange Bishop Jaime Soto and a brigade of lawyers for both diocese. But Bishop Tod D. Brown — leader of Orange County's 1.1 million Catholics — didn't appear as required. "He never even talked to Ryan's family, never sent a letter," Manly remarks. His eyes narrow. A melancholic anger shades him. "That does something to you." Manly never forgot that moment or forgave. And all the phone calls sparked something in him, a desire to seek justice against the institution that, until then, had been his only teacher about good and evil in the world. "You can't hear these stories and not get moved," Manly says. "If you don't feel empathy, then you're dead." Manly soon began filing suits — not just in Orange County, but also in San Diego, Wisconsin, Indiana and Arizona.
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."
Wall grew up in Clontarf, Minnesota, a rural town founded by Irish immigrants with a population of 180 about 170 miles west of St. Paul. Wall counts among his extended family dozens of relatives who entered the priesthood or convents, and his sister remains a Catholic elementary-school teacher. So it was no surprise when Wall enrolled in St. John's College, a tiny Benedictine-run Minnesota college best known for John Gagliardi, the winningest coach in college-football history. The massive Wall played offensive guard on Gagliardi's team, wanting to follow Gagliardi's example and eventually coach at St. John's while simultaneously teaching. He took his priestly vows at 21 at St. John's Abbey, the monastery associated with the school. But Wall's simple life plans changed forever in 1994 when he received an early-morning visit before class. "I was brushing my teeth when I heard a knock," Wall recounts. It was Abbott Jerome Theisen, the head of St. John's. Wall was nervous. "Abbott Jerome never goes on the third floor. But he entered my room and asked, 'How would you like to be a faculty resident?'" Wall dreamed of being a faculty resident one day, a prestigious position at St. John's that put people in charge of dorms housing hundreds of students. Such an honor, however, came to those with years of service at St. John's — definitely not to a 26-year-old grad student. "Oh, yes. Someday," Wall replied to Theisen. "No, how about today?" Theisen shot back. When Wall protested that he wasn't ready, Theisen assured him the seminary would "make some adjustments." Wall was excited—he'd be the youngest faculty resident in St. John's history — but also perplexed. He asked about the status of the previous faculty resident. "He's no longer with us," Theisen told Wall. "He's been removed." "Why?" Wall replied. "I can't tell you that," Theisen said. But Wall knew. A year before, St. John's had weathered a massive sex-abuse scandal — in one day alone, nine cases came forth. He never received an official explanation from Abbot Theisen or anyone else at St. John's, but Wall knew. Last summer, after he described his transition from Church loyalist to critic on NPR's This American Life, Wall says he received a phone call. "It was the former faculty adviser's victim," he says. "He told me what had happened and thanked me. I never really knew why my life had changed until then."
Wall's career rocketed after his promotion, although in a way he never intended. He became what Catholic insiders refer to as a "fixer": a priest sent to tidy up troubled parishes, then move on to the next assignment. He replaced a pedophilic priest at one church, then went to another left nearly bankrupt thanks to a priest who funneled money from donations while maintaining an affair with a parishioner. In his final assignment, Wall replaced a priest who had maintained a sexual relationship with a nun for decades. Wall didn't want these assignments — he wanted to coach football. But officials at the Archdiocese of St. Paul, impressed by his damage-control skills, promoted him. Eventually, they made him a spokesperson for the archdiocese's sex-abuse response team. He remembers specifically the instructions given by his superiors: "This is how you're going to respond. We'll role-play and think of questions that people will ask. If we don't respond properly, the ability to raise money and attract vocations will go down." Wall eventually joined the Archdiocese of St. Paul tribunal, which presides over all sex cases in the Midwest. Later, he would learn a new term to describe what he saw on the tribunal: "monk's disease," the notion that long-term celibacy may make men more likely to become sexual predators. "I was viewing it up close," Wall says. He heard sex-abuse story after sex-abuse story but usually sided with the priest, whatever the incriminating evidence. Wall toed the official Church line until taking an assignment in 1996.
That year, Wall took a case in Monterey, California, for about a week. "The case involved a monk who had molested two brothers, ages six and seven," Wall recalls. "It was a really bad case — he was just ruthless to the boys. And as I'm leaving on the plane, we fly over the Pebble Beach Golf Course there, and I think, 'Oh, shit! I didn't get to golf there!' That's how naive I was." That's when Wall says he knew he couldn't continue. A year after his Monterey trip, he applied for and received a laity request, which stripped him of his priestly vocation. He was 33. Wall drifted from job to job for the next three years, working as an orderly in a Catholic hospital and volunteering for the San Diego district attorney's office of child-molestation cases — his own little penance for the cover-ups that haunted him. He eventually settled in Dana Point and took a job in freight sales. He still attended Mass, even got married in the Church. Wall thought his past "would just go away." Then he read Manly's Times column. "Something told me that he really had a handle on the problem," Wall says. The op-ed piece brought back Wall's past and renewed in him the sense of disgust that drove him from the priesthood. He called Manly a day after reading the article while driving up the 405 to work. "You don't know who I am from Adam, but comparing the Church and tobacco industry is right on" is how Wall remembers introducing himself to Manly. "Continue what you're doing, and if you need any help, give me a call." The two talked for about an hour, as each shared their respective life stories. A couple of weeks later, they met for lunch. Afterward, Manly did what any good attorney does when encountering a potential source: he ran a background check on Wall. A couple of months later, Manly hired Wall full-time as a researcher, where he remains today.
"I'm a leveler," Wall beams. He retains from his St. John's football days the build and mindset of an offensive lineman, which he effectively mitigates with a singsong Minnesotan accent and an endearingly frequent use of words such as "dude" and "malarkey." "I level that playing field between lawyers and the Church. The Church will provide files, but there's so much information to sort, and you have to ask for it specifically or they won't provide it at all. It's real obvious to me, but those things that are in my head are not ammunition in the lawyer's head." Wall stopped attending Mass about a year ago, still a believer in God but fatigued by the struggle to fight for his faith. "It's almost to a point where [sex abuse has] become a custom of the Church," Wall says. "Catholics are currently taking a walk through the valley of tears. It's a dark night of the soul. I have faith that Christ will once again take command, but it'll take generations. "There are good priests, but they're all silent," Wall allows. "It's time for laicized priests and priests alike to come forward and say what they know today. To me, that's what we were ordained to do. We're ordained to look out for the weak, the widowed, the orphans and the poor, to be a voice for those who don't have any." Wall stops and realizes what he just said. He smiles. "The saying is true," he remarks softly, almost sadly. "Once a priest, always a priest."
It's an overcast, chilly Thursday morning outside Mater Dei in May. Joelle Casteix and three other Orange County Church sex-abuse survivors stand silently in front of Mater Dei's entrance, holding signs protesting the school's refusal to acknowledge their cases. Casteix, who frequently appears on television and in newspaper reports regarding the Orange diocese sex scandal, grips a poster board that reads, "Mater Dei's legacy is a legacy of child rape." Another woman unveils a list of 10 former Mater Dei faculty members accused of molesting students during their tenure. The man heading the list is Michael Harris. In the background rises a haunting melody courtesy of the parochial school's choir, which is rehearsing for a performance later that morning. Most cars just zip past the protestors and into Mater Dei's parking lot without a second glance; some stare a bit longer. Still others slow down, lower their passenger windows and begin shouting profanities at the three women. "Shame, shame, shame on all of you!" yells a woman in a Pathfinder as she sticks out her tongue. Another flips what Casteix peppily refers to as "the holy bird." Wall soon joins the women, taking hold of the sign emblazoned with the names of the alleged Mater Dei molesters because "I work with these guys every day." Manly also arrives but stands to the side, looking glum. "I want to support my clients, but I don't want people to say I orchestrated this or that I'm doing this for the attention," he sighs. "It's for the survivors." DiMaria arrives about an hour later because, as Manly glibly notes, "Ryan's always fucking late." Another car passes near the protest, stops and lowers its right window. Everyone suddenly lowers their signs, expecting the umpteenth barrage of the morning. "I just want to say that I'm sorry for what happened to all of you," the female driver shouts out. "I'm sorry. I'm going to pray for all of you and the Church." Wall grins. Manly doesn't react. Casteix looks away. Large, dark sunglasses hide her eyes, but a slight smile slowly creases across her face. She remains silent for a while, and then speaks in a tone that's almost sighing, a breath of healing. "That's all we want to hear," she says to no one in particular. The car drives away, and the three resume protesting — there are more cars coming.