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."
I would knock this guy out if I ever met him.
I agree, the pope should get his block knocked off – good post. The pope is a liar and deceiver, just as other popes. Guess that's what you need to do do preserve investments and material possessions after so much damage to mankind over the centuries.
It is continually upsetting to see how these church offiicials have abused their power. It is also aggravating that there is no balance of reporting regarding this topic. All CNN does is push forward allegation after allegation, ex-priest after ex-priest, not with any attempt for truth, but simply for retribution.
You are correct, CNN and others back off too much. They should dive in and show the disgust of abuse of children in the catholic church and how they abuse the law by lobbying to stop the truth. In the end, the catholic harms ALL victims of abuse by stopping good laws to expose the truth.
The truth is the greatest healer, yet the RCC wants lies and deceit to be their guide.
So how long have you been a priest, CD? Now tell us the truth.
Top 10 Reasons Why Jesus is not God – Joshua Evans – TheDeenShow
Woah! I was looking for a comprehensive answer and voila! Good work!!
These two are still in darkness and do not like the truth. Even Jesus Christ enemies knew who he claimed to be.
"We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” John 10:33
This guy is so wrong on so many levels. Here's one: Jesus never claims to be God, and never demands worship. On a literal level he's right, but even then only to a point. Jesus does use the term "I AM" for himself, the same term that God used for himself with Moses. But, not only that: Thomas declared him to be "My Lord and my God", and Jesus affirmed his belief. What is more, the disciples worshiped Jesus – but these last two points are post Resurrection events, which Muslims discount out of hand.
to ttwp and The Wiz71 – Well said, both of you. Thank you.
HERO since this forum is dedicated to the handling of child abuse in the church why do you feel the need to use it to disrespect Jesus? The New Testament started with Jesus. The 4 Evangelists were eye witnesses. Some say they, [and Peter and Paul ] were illiterate. I disput that. The Epistles written by Peter and Paul prove that they were educated. They are well crafted pieces of literature and detail. If you wish to take issue with the Apocryphal gospels fine – just not the originals. Peace.
John 14: 1-12
Jesus said to Thomas, "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know Him and you have seen Him."
Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."
Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whosoever has seen me has seen the Father."
New York has an opportunity to expose pedophiles. However we need your help. If the 'Child Victims Act' Bill does not make it to the floor for votes by wed, 22nd, this coming week, it will be squashed. The Assembly will pass the Bill, however certain senators will keep it in codes committee, in the senate. It needs to get out of the codes committee (they place it there to kill it). We need to get it to the floor to be voted on. Please go to http://www.ChildRescueBill.org/Yoursupport/YourSupport.htm
All we ask is your phone call and an email. We will keep you posted on what senators are stopping it.
Thank you for your help.
Frank is a hero.
I went to Catholic school my entire life, like the many other young Catholics who were sent because of the easy access to Catholic schools and the strong tradition of Catholic education amongst Catholics. Consequently, we tend to be a better educated group when it comes to our church's official dogma and religious stances. Memorizing and reciting the Baltimore Catechism, from the time we're in grade school, plays no small part in this. Having an hour of religion class every single day, during which a handful of students in the back of the class question the priest about the gaping inconsistencies, illogicalities and repugnancies in what is being taught, also goes a long, long way to educating one about the real Catholic faith and its true face.
I've found that, invariably, the more you learn about the nasty dogma, the more you learn about the filth in the Bible, the more you see the vicious inner workings of the Catholic Church itself, the more likely you are to leave it in absolute revulsion. You find that you don't need to take the bad with the good in a corrupt organization, but you can actually *think for yourself* and can be a perfectly good, moral person all on your own. More so on your own, actually.
In fact, you no longer understand how any intelligent, caring, unselfish, responsible human being with a shred of intellectual honesty can continue to belong to such an organization (but then you discover the theory of "cognitive dissonance", which is depressing but at least gives an answer).
Fully 50% of all Catholics defect from the Church, more than any other religious group. 50% ! Oh, there's a reason for that, you bet.
I bet jesus would love to live in the vatican, all dressed in gold lined wardrobes.
50% might be leaving, but they make their money off hospitals and universities too. And believe me, if it won't make money they will walk away from it. Hospitals, schools and churches closed as proof.
And yes, they make $$ of catholic charities. your tax dollars from government grant money.
I fint it interesting that the same people who have revolted against the Church are the baby boomers who went to Catholic School in the 60s. Your revolt is more about your own selfish wims than any social movement. You reject authority in all instances. These abuses are disgusting and need fixing, but the Church is not evil, nor vile, nor any of that.
I hope your children are prepared to pay the price for your blindness.
I suggest you start realizing your church is a cabal of child buggering monsters
The abuses have been happening since the inception of the church, or do only want to protect your religion over the destroyed lives of children.
Must be the inquisition was OK with you.
Despite appearances and the unworthiness of the monks and clergy, the Church is an endless source of miracles. It takes water and makes it Holy Water; it takes bread and wine and makes the Holy Eucharist; it takes man made of dirt and makes him a god! But many people do not see the miracles. Because if they saw them they would not despise or hate the Church of Christ, but they would love and honor Her and would not be talking about Her with contempt as they do.
Christians are destined to bear a heavy cross in their life. It's a difficult thing to say you believe in the Lord and also that you have ease of life in this life. Because, when you are having ease of life on earth, there is something wrong with yourself; you care about the gold of the land and not for the treasures of heaven. But when you think like this, you are far away from the will of God. Christian life and having ease in life do not go together; they are different things.
THOSE are miracles? Pretty lame miracles!
I agree John. Have this poster post again when someone grows a lost limb back, by prayer.
No. The CHURCH is not the source of the power to work miracles. Jesus is the source.
I am pretty sure the church teaches that the things you mentioned, i.e. the Eucharist and the salvation of a man's soul, are not technically miracles...
CONGRATULATIONS! Mr Patrick Wall you are doing a wonderful thing.
You obviously paid attention to Matthew 7 and are a man of principle and conviction.
Personally he sounds like an angry and vindictive man, obviously having issues.
He is no hero... only after consulting fees from lawyers who make a killing of suing on behalf of victims. He is far from helping.....
Religionist seem to dig deep to support their delusions. How sad.
I treat religion as pppoorrnn and keep it away from kids. N more brainwashing please, the rest of us have evolved.
Realist, who do you think Jesus is? I'm curious.
New York has an opportunity to expose pedophiles. However we need your help. If the 'Child Victims Act' Bill does not make it to the floor for votes by wed, 22nd, this coming week, it will be squashed. The Assembly will pass the Bill, however certain senators will keep it in codes committee. It needs to get out of the codes committee (they place it there so that it will rot away). We need to egt it to the floor to be voted on. Please go to http://www.childrescuebill. org/Yoursupport/YourSupport.htm (omit space)
Islam has its own s=ex abuse scandals, but the imams quoted here are way ahead of the bishops re how to handle it. (For the record, I don't support capital punishment in such cases, but do feel swift and certain justice is the ONLY way to stem the tide of abuse and therefore find the imams' views extreme, but preferable to the Catholic response.)
Sodomy? For a surprise, do a search: First Scandal.
The First Scandal was making up fake stories about spirits and demons. The second scandal was making up fake stories of a super-spirit called a god.
The third scandal was Adam "trying out" all the animals before saying that none of them would do as a "help-mate".
Beastiality is in the Bible folks. Adam did it. God helped him.
But don't worry, the whole Bible is bullsh!t anyway. ;-)
MATTHEW 5:17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." Jesus endorses the mass murder, r ape, slavery, torture and incest written about in the Old Testament.
It helps if you understand what the Scripture means, and not take it out of context. Honestly, the Son of God approving of such sin? I don't think so. Go actually read your Bible.
It appears to me that fimeilleur has READ the Bible.The God of the Bible is far from good and loving.
MARK 7:10 Jesus taught that any child who cursed his parents should be killed according to Old Testament law.
LUKE 12:47 Jesus warned that a servant of God who does not heed his master will be "beaten with many blows."
LUKE 19:26 In the parable of the ten minas, the master (God) said of those who chose not to follow him, "...bring them here and kill them in front of me."
In what contexte is ANY of this acceptable?
The church is assuredly one of the most disgusting illnesses in the history of humanity.
I will pray for you Frank. Peace be with you.
You are clearly an enemy of the Holy Catholic Church. Christ commands us to love our enemies. You will have my prayers for your own peace of mind and salvation.
@Steve–I hope with all my heart that when you kneel to pray for me, you herniate a disk.
Christ commands us to love our enemies.
So Christ commands that you love the priest(s) that have molested you? Now isn't that special.
@ Jesusfreaks [I find your name shows disrespect and ignorance, by the way]
It's actually " love the sinner, hate the sin". There is nothing wrong with praying that all of us sinners will realise our faults and ask forgiveness. Be careful if you cast the first stone = remember the Lord's prayer," forgive us as we forgive others"
The catholic church teaches us to keep secret the abuse by priests and to deny the victims, their lives are too small.
The church lobbies to stop laws to deny the truth. Thee truth is the greatest healer, the catholic church denies that with its actions.
The truth means so little to this organization.
The cast the first stone parable was not in the original text. Scribes added it in the 12th century. Jesus never said it. Jesus was illiterate and so were his disciples. No one in Jesus' time wrote down anything that he said because no one cared. He was a nobody and probably a nut job. David Koresh had a larger following. The stories in the Bible have been borrowed from other sources and religions. No offense.
frank is absolutely correct.
Give 'em hell, frank! There's a lot of us on your side.
Frank, the herniated disk line is hilarious.
VictimOfAbuse, please stay tough. The truth is coming out, and someday you will hopefully be seen as the hero you are just for surviving. People who pretend to be Catholics know nothing about religion, and only know what they hear from their bishops. Hold on – your day is coming.
I'm sorry for what you had go through. But I was wondering if you have ever made a mistake, we're all human beings. Only our consciences can tell each of us if our action is right. And I also wondering if you truly find peace now by being as a hero
helping these victims.
Yes. Organized religions are succeptible to corruption. The real debate lays with S C I E N C E – as shown in this video.
As seen in the video, religion is not just susceptible to corruption, but to arrogance based in ignorance.
Nothingless, if your post was written in English, I could respond better, but I'll try to translate what you've written to English and then trash it.
"But I was wondering if you have ever made a mistake, we're all human beings."
Idiotic comment. There's a difference between making a mistake and raping a child. You don't get forgiven for that, regardless of what your pedophile protection program told you.
"Only our consciences can tell each of us if our action is right."
Idiotic comment. We also have a legal system for that, and we will put your pedophile priests and pedophile protectors in jail.
"And I also wondering if you truly find peace now by being as a hero helping these victims."
Those of us who try can walk proudly to our judgement day. You will have to explain yourself. Good luck. God isn't stupid, and He has a great memory.
After 9 years – survivor John V. Doe – receives favorable US District Court decision vs. the Holy See. The "No Sovereign Immunity" press conference explaining the court decision. - Now the Vatican knows it's time for truth, honesty and openness, not "wiggling." Watch the press conference video "Remarkable" with Jeff Anderson, Marci Hamilton & Mike Finnegan explaining the legal grounds for the suit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e386S6TzNMo
The Church does not need filth like that, the Bishops should open every file to the police and let them be prosecuted for their crimes. Forgiveness does not mean protecting the perpetrators.
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.