He liked the job at first. His superiors liked him. He was 26, he was moving fast, and he was doing God’s work. But by the time he’d taken over his fourth parish in four years, he realized he wasn’t doing God’s work at all. He was doing the bidding of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. And those two things, in his mind, were not remotely the same.
As a Benedictine monk, Patrick Wall cleaned up and covered up the sins of priests — pastors who were quietly transferred when their sexual and financial trespasses threatened to ignite public scandal.
His spiritual path and career trajectory charted by the mistakes of fallen brethren, he was the affable replacement — a ruddy-faced, Irish-American priest whose fondest desire was a life of study and worship — a fireplug of rugged intensity and emanating faith.
But each parish stole a bigger chunk of his faith and of his soul until he despaired, at age 33, of losing himself and his religion.
His ability to bridge the secular and clerical worlds serves him well in his current job — as adviser to a Southern California law firm representing more than 50 sexual abuse victims, a client population that grows each week, suing the Los Angeles archdiocese and the Orange, Calif., diocese.
He is knowledgeable about the church’s legal system. He knows which documents to ask for during the legal discovery process. He knows how the money flows and how to trace sums used to silence victims.
He also knows how the church dealt with priests who had sex with teenage boys, priests who abused children, and priests who stole church funds to pay gambling debts because he once helped make such scandals, and others, go away.
He is 38 now and married. The only person to whom he is father is two-year-old Erin, a blur of curls in constant motion spouting words in Italian, Spanish, English and another language she apparently made up herself. Wall and his wife, Lisa, are smitten parents, revolving around their daughter like planets.
Wall left the priesthood in 1998. “I just couldn’t do it any longer,” he says, with the air of a man who rescued himself just in time.
He had worked in good faith, he says, believing the church was telling him the right thing to do. But as the years went by and his experience grew, he realized he could no longer placate parishioners by batting away their questions and referring them to the bishop. He could no longer trust the church to discipline offending priests because he saw they weren’t being disciplined, just shuffled to new parishes.
“I knew the institution wasn’t going to change,” he says. He also knew, judging from the misdeeds of others, the institution could change him.
“I didn’t want to be that way,” he says, in his windowed office on the 12th floor of the law office where he has worked since last year.
Part of him will always be an ordained monk in a black robe. He is a man who lives in two worlds, completely belonging to neither.
PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS / Patrick Wall is a former Benedictine monk living in Orange County, Calif.,
Daily Mercury (Guelph, Ont.) 09-06-2003