By Richard Allen Greene, CNN
(CNN) - As a young man studying for the priesthood, Patrick Wall imagined life as a professor and football coach at a Catholic university.
It didn't work out that way. Two decades later, Wall has not only left the Catholic Church, he has become one of its most tireless opponents.
He's an ex-priest, driven from ministry by the feeling that his superiors used him to help cover up sex abuse by other clergymen.
And he's using the training he gained as a priest to work with victims of abuse who want to take the church to court.
Since 1991, Wall says he has consulted on more than 1,000 abuse cases, helping lawyers pick apart defenses mounted by dioceses from Alaska to Australia.
Now a senior consultant at the law firm of Manly and Stewart in Southern California, Wall spoke to CNN on the sidelines of a recent conference for legal and religion scholars at Cardiff Law School in Wales.
In Philadelphia, where four priests and a Catholic school teacher were indicted on sex abuse charges earlier this year, Wall says he is helping the district attorney build an unprecedented criminal case not only against the clergy, but against an archdiocesan official who supervised them. The priests – one of whom is the church official – and the teacher have denied the allegations.
The case is potentially historic. Wall doesn't know of another case where a U.S. prosecutor has gone after an official at the top of the church hierarchy as well as the suspected abusers themselves.
Prosecutors are trying to convict a vicar – the man who supervised the priests in the archdiocese – with child endangerment because they say he allowed suspected abusers to have contact with young people.
The case raises the possibility that a high-ranking church official will end up behind bars.
Wall hopes the threat of prison time will change the way American bishops respond to abuse allegations in a way that civil lawsuits have not.
"In the civil cases, we have taken over $3 billion, but you're not getting a lot of change in the system," he says.
Patrick Wall outside a recent conference in Wales.
There has been more than a decade of intense focus on abuse by priests across the United States and Western Europe, plus lawsuits, investigations, and Vatican statements, including instructions to bishops around the world just last month to come up with an abuse policy.
And even so, Wall says, priests are still abusing children.
"I'm working on stuff that happened in the summer of 2010," he says. "It's the same old sodomy."
A life-changing assignment
Wall was studying to be a priest at Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, when there was a life-changing knock on his door one morning after breakfast.
At his door that day in 1990 was the head of the abbey, Abbot Jerome Theisen, with an assignment, Wall says.
Wall, then 25, was to move into one of the freshman dormitories at the university associated with the abbey. The abbot wanted him to become a faculty resident, a staff position that involved keeping an eye on first-year university students in college housing. He was to make the move immediately, that very morning.
Wall knew why.
"Starting in 1989, we started getting hit with lawsuit after lawsuit" from people alleging that priests had abused them, Wall says. He says the abbot told him that credible abuse accusations had been made against the man Wall was to replace.
Brother Paul Richards, a spokesman for Saint John's Abbey, said that the monastery and university had no record of why Wall was asked to work in the dorm. Abbot Theisen has died, Richards added.
Saint John's Abbey adopted a policy on sexual abuse and exploitation in 1989, it says on its website, saying that made it “among the first institutions to adopt” such a policy.
Wall, for his part, says the abbot's request put him on the road to becoming what the church unofficially calls a "fixer," a person who parachutes in to replace clergy who have to disappear quickly and quietly.
Wall as the temporary administrator at a Maplewood, Minnesota church in 1995.
One of Theisen's successors, Abbot John Klassen, issued an open letter of apology in 2002, saying that "some members" of the monastic community had engaged in "abusive sexual behavior with people in our schools and parishes."
A lawsuit was filed earlier this month against Saint John's by a man who says he was abused in the 1960s by a priest who later served as abbot between Theisen and Klassen. The abbey says it was “shocked” by the charges against the late Abbot Timothy Kelly, who died of cancer last year.
It says it is investigating the claims against Kelly, calling them “the first allegations that Abbot Kelly violated his vows or was an abuser.”
Wall plans to testify in that case, he told CNN.
"In the fall of '92 we had another 13 [abuse] cases come through," Wall says. "They pushed up my ordination" by a few months, Wall says, so he could step into the shoes of another priest who had to vanish.
Understanding the damage
It was after his ordination, Wall says, that he began to understand the trauma that abusive priests were inflicting, not only on their victims but on victims' families and communities.
As a new priest, Wall started hearing confessions of victims' relatives who blamed themselves for the abuse, telling Wall "I should have known, I should have seen the signs."
A heavy-set man who laughs easily, Wall still looks like the linebacker he was in high school and college. He peppers his speech with words like "dude" and casually refers to people who he thinks have done something stupid as "morons."
But relating the confessions of victims' relatives, Wall's cheerful demeanor hardens.
"I'm telling them, 'You haven't committed a sin,'" he says.
Wall, right, with his mom, dad and a diocesan priest in 1989.
Wall says that child abuse isn't like other injury cases, such as car crashes, in which a victim might be 10% at fault. Instead, he says, "100% of the blame is on the perpetrator."
Over the next four years, Wall says that the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis sent him to four more places in Minnesota where priests needed to move out fast.
He learned a lot. Wall says he saw that there was a budget for handling cases of priestly sexual abuse as far back as 1994, eight years before the scandal blew up nationally with revelations about abuse in Boston, Massachusetts. The archdiocese could not immediately confirm that, but spokesman Dennis McGrath said he would not be surprised if it was true, saying the archdiocese had been a leader in helping victims of abuse.
Wall did what the church told him to do for as long as he could, he says, but his doubts continued to grow.
"I followed the party line," he says. "But it's pretty hard to follow the party line when you don't think the party line is moral any more."
The breaking point came in 1997. Wall was in Rome, studying for a master's of divinity degree. His abbot called from Minnesota to tell him he was being posted to the Bahamas.
It was not the dream job it might sound like.
Wall says that the Bahamas was where Saint John's was sending priests it had to keep away from people because of abuse allegations. Richards, the abbey's spokesman, flatly denies the charge.
"I basically was going to be a prison warden," Wall says.
"Without much planning, I said, 'Basta cosi,'" he says, lapsing into Minnesota-accented Italian meaning, "Enough of this." Wall had decided to leave the priesthood.
Patrick Wall at his first mass as a priest in December 1992.
The abbot did not take that well, Wall says, warning that he would never make it in "the real world," that he would not be released from his priestly vows and that the order would bill him for the master's degree it had sponsored for him. The tab for the degree was about $48,000, he says.
Richards denies those allegations. "It has never been the abbey's practice to require payback for education from members of our community who have left," he says, "and it was not the case with Pat Wall."
Wall says the abbot's threats did not change his mind.
"All it did is piss me off even more," he says. "I left without a plan in December 1997."
Wall says he went home to Lake City, Minnesota to live with his parents, then bounced from job to job for nearly five years. He got married and had a daughter. He made good money as a salesman in Southern California but says he found the work as intellectually stimulating as "shovelling dirt."
And then, in 2002, the California state legislature did something that would change Wall's life. The state opened a one-year window to allow victims of clergy abuse to sue the church, even if the if the statute of limitations on the case had already expired.
Wall's eyes light up as he discusses the moment.
The law did not specifically target the Catholic Church, Wall says, noting that some rabbis were sued as well. But Catholic organizations were by far the largest group of defendants.
Still, suing a Catholic diocese was no easy task. "The litigation demanded a level of expertise that had never been needed before," Wall says.
Because of his religious training in canon law, as the Catholic Church's rules are known, Wall had that expertise. He knew how and where the church kept records. He knew where money came from and where it went. He spoke Italian and Latin.
In his first case, he testified against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, California, challenging its claim that it did not know the Franciscan friar at the center of abuse allegations.
Wall insisted that the archdiocese and any priest in it would have easy access to church records saying who the Franciscan was and who had jurisdiction over him.
The case settled out of court, Wall says.
The Diocese of Orange declined to comment for this article, as did the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which is the defendant in several cases currently involving Wall’s firm, Manly and Stewart.
Jeffrey Lena, a lawyer who represents the Vatican in the United States, also declined to comment.
But Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota-based lawyer who specializes in suing the Catholic Church on behalf of abuse victims and filed the suit against Saint John's Abbey, is full of praise for Wall.
Anderson calls Wall “an extraordinary researcher, academic and hands-on voice of experience from the inside.”
He praises the former priest's “courage,” and says he is a “powerful, insightful source of information based on his own personal experience and his study of the phenomenon” of abuse.
An old problem
Wall argues that the problem of abuse by priests is far older than anyone in the church admits publicly.
The earliest church records concerning sexual misconduct by priests come from the Council of Elvira, he says. That synod took place in what is now Spain in the year 309.
There was a treatment center for abusive priests in Hartford, Connecticut, as far back as 1822, Wall says, and the Vatican issued instructions to American bishops on how to judge and punish accusations of criminal acts by priests as far back as 1883.
Wall provided his translation of the 1883 instructions to CNN. They do not refer to any specific crimes, but refer to “abuses” and “evils.” They set out how to investigate, judge and punish crimes by priests, laying out rules such as the examination of witnesses in private, and the opportunity for the accused to know the charges and to respond and appeal.
The Philadelphia district attorney's office declined to comment on assistance it is receiving from Wall, saying it was prevented by court order from discussing the case with the media.
But Wall says that years of seeing how the Catholic Church handles abuse cases have convinced him that the church will not solve the problem itself.
He says he's not impressed by new instructions from Rome last month giving bishops around the world a year to come up with procedures for handling allegations of abuse.
"It's a Circular Letter," he says, using the official church term for the document. "That means it's for the circular file. Bishops are going to throw it away."
Last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops revised its 2002 charter around dealing with sex abuse allegations to reflect the Vatican's new standards.
Wall believes the Catholic Church will survive this scandal.
"It's going to fix itself," he says.
"The institution is going to become radically smaller" as people abandon the church, he predicts. "The loss of membership, the problems in the criminal courts, the statements from the pope - these are all good."
Perpetrators need "access, power and money" in order to commit crimes and get away with them, Wall argues. A smaller, weaker Catholic Church won't be able to provide those things, making it less of a haven for abusers, he says, which will lead to a cleansed institution.
In the meantime, Wall says, the church should give up trying to handle abusers internally and let the law step in.
He recommends that the church "completely get out" of child protection, hand over all its files to civil law enforcement, and make bishops sign a legal oath every year that there are no perpetrators in the ministry - which would open them to criminal prosecution if they are found to have lied.
"Otherwise," he says, "I'll be prosecuting priest sex abuse cases for the rest of my life."
good luck with that. ive been in touch with several diocese after a priest was moved around and they wont even answer is he still a priest? the present pope was head of the investigating office before being pope. the bishopaccountability website is informative
When alter boys are molested it is a gay man doing it sir, not the Church. I am not Catholic but I do know the Catholic church teaches gay se_x is sin, pedophilia is sin, and se_x outside marriage is sin. Don't blame the RCC for what a gay priest does. The gay priest was obviously not interested in serving God. His motivation was to get a job where he could be close to children.
well bud, it seems you missed the part where officials in the church attempted to cover up the abuse??? any abuse is bad, but it is exacerbated if committed by ones claiming to be gods servants ... the fact that their crimes are covered up by their superiors makes it even worse ... i suggest a re-read the article, but clean your biased glasses off first ...
A great artical on this same subject:
Ah, he found a new ma$ter. I see.
I have no problem with him consulting for a major law firm, embracing his materialistic side or helping victims of abuse. But please do not try to tell me he's on some sort of crusade. There's more to this story than this guy lets on. He was passed over for some promotion or some such thing and wants payback, plain and simple.
Ma$ter, Indeed, is what this is all about. He became a salesman after leaving the church, and he hates his job. Now he found an opportunity to make easy money as a highly paid consultant! He broke his vows, just like any philanderer, and found a way to make money off it, and sells his story for more bucks. Where is Wall's integrity, decency and self-respect!
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Your point, aside from being irrelevant to the article is full of lies. Get your facts right, because making up lies about immigrants makes you look like a fool.
BlogSlave: You're a LAUGH-A-MINUTE!Without accepting the Pope as the head of the chucrh you have nothing!! You know the scriptures as well as do I, so it doesn't do any good here, for arguments sake, to quote them. Your Catholic instructional experience in the Roman Catholic Faith sounds like a comic-strip: a laugh-a-minute! Who taught you your catechism fallen-away-Catholics?? Did you ever think to ask a priest your questions when you went to confession? You would not have been told, That's the rule! , inside the confessional. The priest would have honestly addressed your concerns using intelligent and logical answers. Just always remember, Christ was not a whimp: He offered the rich young man heaven if he go sell what you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me. This was a hard saying, and the young man turned and walked away. Christ didn't chase after him and say, Oh, I'm sorry, let me see if I can change my rules in order to make you feel better so then you will come & follow me .
I wonder why we dont hear about the nun abuse. What the nuns did to the girls would blow the publics mine. The nuns behaved like women in prisons. Many of their victims are going to take it to their grave. Women are stronger and want to save the catholic church from additional scandal. I was sick to my stomach hearing about what these victims went through.
I was taught by Nuns for years. They were kind but firm, excellent educators and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their contribution to the person I became as an adult.
I wouldn't have swapped my time with them for anything. Try to look at the good alongside the bad; it's much healthier. Peace be with you.
we need to take away casy anthonys abilty to make money on our little fallen anen angel. pass it to all of the news media. spread the news we want to tell the truth. lets stop casy anthony right now.
The biggest problem is the arrogance of the Catholic administration. The the Bishops are the "princes of the Church" and they behave like they personally believe it. They have no faith in God or they would discharge monsters rather than keep them as though more souls will be lost if these so called priests were sent away.
Silly catholics, the Bible is for Christians.
On a more serious note, I pity this guy and the Catholic church for one reason. It's so blatantly obvious what they are doing and no one cares. My prime example? He knew for 7 years and did nothing. Sure he tried to help, but that's not the correct response when it comes to child abuse on an international level.
The comment by lacverbum shows why he did not leave sooner. He, felt like a traitor even thinking about defying the "holey" bishops. lacverbum is stating one of the most common protestant confusions as well as one which occurs in Catholicism. lacverbum even seems to be comparing the Bishops, or maybe the Pope to Christ. These guys are people who rose to power in a large organization with all the evils of large organizations the size of governments and they did not achieve that by silent prayer either.
I thought the bible was for everyone? This is the problem with organized religion...one group always thinks they are better than another....that is NOT what the bible teaches...
@ bazoing – That is a very naive comment. He was a consenting adult, educated and like all of us he has a conscience. His duty was to God, his conscience and the victims – and as a priest he KNEW it. To say otherwise is dishonest.
If he was so easily swayed by fear of upsetting the hierarchy, he had no business to be a priest at all. Every person on the planet will answer to God. No-one else.
"It didn't work out that way. Two decades later, Wall has not only left the Catholic Church, he has become one of its most tireless opponents."
I think this guy is a betrayer. Did Christ choose twelve disciples and one of them betrayed Him? He intentionly returned the bad for all the good things Christ has given him; I am sorry for Wall; the master says you should wisely build your house on rock, otherwise it would collapse. (Mt 7:21).
That is a sick comment.
I knew most of you Catholics were pedophiles at heart!
The man leaves the church over disgust that the church covers up abuse and you call him a betrayer because he talks about the truth publicly.
Folks, you can't make this stuff up. Read what the Catholics are saying in these blogs!
@Frank Miller – Don't be such a Muppet! One person gives an opinion that you disagree with and you now KNOW that all of us Catholics are abusers? That's as dopey as me saying I hate your comment, I Knew anybody called Frank Miller is a clinical depressive!
Catholic clergy abusers – 3% (overestimated, the actual number of reported cases is 2.2%)
Parental abusers – 5.5% (general public)
Public school teacher abusers – 12.3% (actual reported cases, not even assumed cases)
Lutheran minister abusers 18.9%
Anglican minister abusers 22.3%
Interesting how people always focus on the Catholic abusers. Interesting how reporters never tell you about all those other abusers.
Speaking as a Catholic, yes, those are good numbers, but that doesn't help the individuals harmed, and the issue is that the Church does (hopefully did, past tense) have a pattern of transferring the priests and burying the accusations, rather than removing the perpetrator from the priesthood and making sure it did not happen again on their watch, so a single priest was able to reoffend many times. Priests should be figures to be trusted, and should not harm children, period. Those that do need to be removed, first time. Yes, there is room for forgiveness, always, but there are also consequences, particularly for sin so great, and penance must happen, and part of that penance needs to be removal from the priesthood and turning over to law enforcement so as to place the (former) priest in a situation with less temptation. Catholics must be able to trust their priests.
Only cowardly weasels respond to accusations of wrong-doing by pointing to someone else and saying, "well, they did it, too!" What are you, six years old?
The Catholic Church perpetrated an ORGANIZATIONAL cover-up. It's not about "abusive priests." It's about the entire Church deliberately PROTECTING abusive priests and intentionally giving them opportunities to keep committing abuses. When you've found evidence of any of those other organizations doing the same thing on such a massive scale, you'll have a point. Let us know when you find that evidence.
Visit http://www.vaticancatholic.com if you REALLY want to know why this is all happening.
Not have committed a sin because you did not know your loved one was being abused is immaterial.
And as for paying back his Master's degree, that's EXACTLY what any other corporation would do. Don't accept money from people you don't trust.
The whole story is about someone who joined an organization and decided he did not want to follow their rules (whether they are just to follow or not). I do not have sympathy for him.
I'm more concerned by the fact that for 7 years he KNEW what was going on. He knew and he went along with it [ being a 'fixer, having his ordination pushed forward so he could step in..... etc.] You don't have to be religious to know that abuse is dreadful and inexcusable. So why did he go along with it?
And why , after 7 years of KNOWING did he leave only because he had a 'feeling' he was being used to cover up abuse?
Just a 'FEELING' That really bothers me.
He doesn't want your sympathy, you little weasel.
Stop making excuses for the Church. They intentionally protected child abusers and helped them find fresh victims. You are a sick and twisted individual to make excuses for that. I realize that you're in denial and don't want to accept that the organization you look up to is made up of evil men who hurt people...but the truth has been out for too long for me to accept that form of denial as an excuse. If you can't admit the truth, just SHUT UP and say nothing at all instead of attacking those who speak up.
Nebraska wont change their laws on statute of limitations either. There is plenty to answer for @ Boys Town.
The obligation to follow rules does not apply when you're being asked to do something heinous and immoral and illegal and contrary to what the organization you're employed by purports to believe. Not that hypocrisy in religion is surprising anymore. Criticizing him for the choice is absurd; that's the same as approving of bishops who covered up abuse "because it was the rule". That's horrible.
I am originally from Minnesota. My father was abused by his uncle, a Catholic priest, when he was a child. He then went on to abuse someone who abused me. These incidents have far-reaching effects and it's about time the Catholic church sees that. So many years of anguish for so many people in my family, and in countless other families. I am not a religious person, but I believe in a person's right to worship, or not, as they choose. I don't believe however that the Catholic church can "Fix itself." One of the problems has been that church's insistence on hiding what's going on and dealing with it themselves.
Has ANYONE stopped to think that some of these priests were exactly in your situation, that they were abused as children, and felt that the priesthood was attractive to them as "penance" or an alternative to a "normal life"?
No one has looked at WHY it seems that priests as a group (and I would argue just as many, if not more, public school teachers and youth sports coaches are guilty of pedophilia and moved around or ignored) commit these crimes more often (again, according to the media). Perhaps worrying about WHY someone acts like your father, continuing the cycle, will help solve the problem of child abuse.
The reality is that NO ONE can be trusted with continual contact with small children unsupervised. Public schools have rules about teachers not helping children who have bathroom accidents. There are many cases over the years of teachers abusing children (several cases in my town growing up), and no one has sued the government about it (yet).
I'm so sorry for what you and your family went through. Abuse has horrific ramifications in life and I hope you have reached a place of peace. It horrifies me that things of nice nature can happen, and I am so sorry it happened to you.
As for "public school teachers" being abusers...abusers come in all shapes and sizes, don't knock the public school teachers. I happen to be one, and in case you haven't noticed, priests, if teachers, are parochial school teachers. Yes, I agree that maybe priests could have been abused as children and go on to repeat the abuse themselves...but there is something about a "man of God" using their power to abuse children that is beyond belief in its horrificness and absolutely heart breaking for the victims.
I am a Catholic, and I am ashamed that these priests have such weak faith that they cannot control their basal instincts.
I suggest you tell your repblican senattors just that. Right now they protect the church by stopping laws that would expose all pedos. The bishop who abused me, abused many more. The Bishops are the ones who follow the popes oders of cover ups and denials, the parishioners who don't demand lawmakers pass laws to expose – are the enablers. The victims harmed again. One victim, of the same abuser as mine, committed suicide. His mother cried to her death. She tried to cjange laws but was spaat on by those politicians who need catholic votes to stay in office.
I'm also Catholic, and for every horrible abusive priest that exists....then I can can also count tens or hundreds that gave their lives to tireless promotion of the Gospel. Any person in authority is faced with the decision to abuse a victim, whether its a priest, a non-denominational pastor, counselor, doctor or teacher. It's not just Catholic priests that are abusive, but it IS Catholic churches that are not honoring due process when justice should be served.
SHUT YOUR MOUTH. Those "tens or hundreds that gave their lives to tireless promotion of the Gospel" PARTICIPATED IN THE COVER UPS. By quietly moving the abusers from parish to parish, they KNOWINGLY gave them access to fresh victims. I've just about had it with people like you making excuses for what the Church did or simply changing the subject by reminding us of its good deeds. YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. You are siding with the evil men who allowed children to be hurt. Too much of a coward to bring yourself to denounce it? Fine. SO JUST SIT ON THE SIDELINES AND KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.
That is actually a question in your mind?? to abuse or not to abuse??? that is the main problem.....do people even have a moral compass anymore??
@ Dave – What a nasty, ill-bred way to carry on a discussion! You are ranting like a spoilt kid.
Whether you like it or not there are thousands of good priests and they DO amazing good. Wall KNEW about the abuse because he was told to 'keep an eye' on a couple of suspects [later he 'covered 'for more. In parish life, busy priests were not informed as, happened with the Catholic population.
If EVERYONE was told, the Hierarchy wouldn't have been ABLE to cover it up you nasty man.
I wish Mr. Wall all the best, although he does not need my support, he can stand up to the Vatican on his own just fine. I do hope, however, that he is wrong on one count: that the Catholic Church can "fix itself". Instead, I hope that humanity realizes that religion, *all* religion, should be relegated to the dust bin of history, so that science and reason can set us on a path of survival on this planet. The 6th Great Extinction event, as we are apt to call it, is likely to happen because of the actions of human kind, and if we are to avoid it, religion must die, and along with it, all of its evils and myths. There are no gods, there never have been, they've been conjured-up by frightened, ignorant and illiterate minds that did not possess the knowledge to explain how the world works in the early history of humanity. We must leave that ignorance behind.
Sorry Robert. You are obviously sincere and I respect your opinion but min is that you are way off the beam here.
As a Catholic I can tell you that I love both science and reason. But, a truly reasonable atheist has to at the very least consider the existence of a Creator. The Big Bang happened. But what or who caused the Big Bang? I firmly believe that God did. Everything has a beginning, right?
Good article...I agree with Wall too...I think a leaner Catholic Church is good for the world. No organization whether it be the US government, the Catholic Church, or Exxon Mobil can be kept clean and accountable in their current size. I hope he does his best to rid the church of its ills...it's a shame that it's come to this.
I think it's a shame that it took him 7 years of 'knowing' to do something about it. A lot of youngsters could have been saved if he'd acted earlier, maybe. I just find it odd that he shows evidence of knowing what was going, on quite graphically. Then he says he left because he "had a 'feeling' he was being used"! I find that odd.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.