SANTA ANA – In bright sunlight, Patrick Wall walked in darkness. Lost in the secular world. After 11 years as a Benedictine monk – six as a priest – he had renounced his vows and left St. John’s Abbey.
Disheartened by sexually abusive monks, restricted by rigid superiors and convinced his vow of celibacy would fail, Wall finally won his freedom from the Rule of Benedict.
It was the scariest possible outcome for a man who once considered the abbey his life.
At St. John’s, everything was provided: food, clothing, health care, cars. Now he had none of those.
His training was in Latin and Italian, in divine texts and church history. Now it seemed of little use.
“When you leave the monastery, you are completely disconnected,” Wall says. “You have no idea where you are going to go, what you are going to do, or even if you can fit in.”
At first he wiped bottoms in a Minnesota hospital. He came to California and shuffled paper in a county office.
One Sunday, Wall read a newspaper commentary by a lawyer who had won a $5 million sexual-abuse settlement from the Diocese of Orange.
Attorney John Manly blasted Catholic bishops for “act(ing) more like the tobacco industry than like the successors to the apostles that they are supposed to be.”
The next day, Wall called Manly’s office, introduced himself as a former priest and offered to help penetrate the secrecy of the church.
Manly did not call back.
“I’m sure he thought I was an absolute kook,” Wall says.
While Wall was still in the seminary, they sent him to fill in for a monk accused of sexual abuse. After his ordination, he was sent to replace a priest accused of abuse.
“I was expected to find the discontented and calm the seas,” Wall says.
As Wall was sent from parish to troubled parish, his own discontent grew.
He discovered that the Benedictines had a problem with sexually abusive monks.
He felt that the abbey’s response was aimed at covering the monastery.
He learned that many priests maintain secret sexual relationships.
“The question came to me: If all these priests have failed in their vows, can I successfully live a celibate life?”
In 1998, the pope accepted Wall’s petition for laicization. In the parlance of the church, Wall had become a “defector.”
One year later, Wall happened “by the grace of God” into Emory Worldwide. The vice president turned out to be an ex-seminarian from Rome. They chatted in Italian for an hour without ever mentioning air cargo. At the end of it, Wall had a job.
After a long struggle, Wall would also find love.
He had few trappings of success – no home, no car and an entry-level job. Three lunches arranged by a dating service were a disaster.
Then he had lunch with Lisa Hill, a performing ballerina and family therapist who worked as a public guardian. She was the first one to ask him, “What is canon law?”
A year later Patrick proposed at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Their daughter Erin was born in 2001.
Wall’s transition to the secular world was complete. But something still gnawed at him. One day while calling on a shipper in Manly’s office building, Wall rode upstairs and dropped in on the lawyer.
Manly was intrigued.
He called another ex-Benedictine, San Diego psychotherapist and author Richard Sipe, and asked him to check Wall out. Sipe called a cleric high up in St. John’s Abbey.
“They said he was headstrong and very independent,” Sipe recalled. “I would consider that a compliment. But for a monk, that is not good.”
Reassured, Manly began using Wall to decode the archaic language of the church.
“When you depose a bishop, they use terms like ‘encardination’ or a ‘delict of the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue,’ ” Manly said. “You need somebody to decipher that.”
In 2002, Manly hired Wall as a full-time researcher. Wall has since flown to Alaska, Oregon and Florida to investigate abuse claims against priests.
The same year that Wall went to work for Manly, a new abbot at St. John’s addressed decades of abuse allegations, disciplining 13 monks and settling with a dozen victims.
But that has not eased tension between the Benedictines and their former brother.
The new abbot, John Klassen, complains that Wall has promoted himself at the expense of the abbey.
“If you asked if the monks of this abbey feel that Patrick has unfairly bashed us at times, the response would be yes,” Klassen says.
Both Klassen and Wall compare his decision to leave to the end of a marriage.
“Some divorces are messier than others,” Klassen says.
With Sipe and Dominican priest Tom Doyle, Wall has spent two years plowing through ancient texts, searching for proof that the early church knew its priests were violating their vows.
Their book, “Sex, Priests and Secret Codes,” is to be published by Bonus Books in November.
Former monk now investigates priests
By Chris Knap
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
September 1, 2005