Wall’s first call as a sex-abuse fixer knocked on his door one morning in 1991, while he was brushing his teeth. [Pat] Wall was not yet a priest, just a monk studying at St. John’s University in Minnesota. The abbot came to his room before class with an urgent matter regarding another monk and said Wall would be moving into the boy’s prep-school dormitory—immediately. The other monk “had an incident with a 14-year-old in the shower.” Wall was to take his place.
This 2009 article, about abuse in Alaska, discusses the work of Pat Wall, a former monk at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN.
When Patrick Wall wore monk’s robes, he must’ve looked like Friar Tuck. A former all-state football lineman, Wall has broad shoulders, a brawny neck, short reddish hair, and a habit of calling people “bro.”
We met last week in Sea-Tac Airport’s Alaska Airlines Board Room—a two-story business lounge, just past the security check, with conference tables, ergonomic chairs next to computer stations, and free espresso. He and Ken Roosa were there to meet with a client. Wall lives in California, Roosa lives in Anchorage, and many of their clients are on the West Coast, so they’ve done a lot of business in the Board Room. “I like to spend the night at home,” Wall says, setting his airplane reading—The Name of the Rose—on the conference-room table.
Wall’s first call as a sex-abuse fixer knocked on his door one morning in 1991, while he was brushing his teeth. Wall was not yet a priest, just a monk studying at St. John’s University in Minnesota. The abbot came to his room before class with an urgent matter regarding another monk and said Wall would be moving into the boy’s prep-school dormitory—immediately. The other monk “had an incident with a 14-year-old in the shower.” Wall was to take his place.
Taken aback, Wall threw up every objection he could think of. He didn’t own a computer and used the communal ones in the monastery. “We’ll buy you a laptop.” He helped with mass at a local parish. “We’ll reassign you to campus ministry.” He was on call for the volunteer fire department. “Not anymore.” The abbot wouldn’t take no for an answer.
So Wall packed up, moved into the boys dormitory, quickly intuited who else on the floor had been abused (5 out of the 90 residents), and coaxed them into talking about what had happened. Those cases never became public and were settled out of court. “If you’re good,” Wall says, “the assignments build.” Wall was so good, he was ordained a year early and kept busy, working as many as 13 cases per month.
The job was harrowing and frustrating. “If you’re the cleaner, you rarely find out the resolution to these things,” Wall says. “Because survivors had to sign confidentiality agreements.” The ultimate objective, for a cleaner, was to keep things quiet so the details never became public or went to trial. Wall slowly came to believe that his superiors were more concerned with protecting their public image than caring for survivors. It was, he says, a dark time, not least because he was struggling with his own vows of celibacy. In 1998, he asked to be laicized. By 2001, he was married to a ballet dancer and had a newborn daughter. By 2002, he was hired as a full-time researcher for the law firm Manly and Stewart investigating clerical sex-abuse cases.
Since then, he and Roosa—who often collaborate on cases with attorney John Manly—have worked over 250 cases together, all of them settled without going to trial. “I would like to see any of these cases go to trial to expose the corruption of the system,” Wall says. But the church would rather pay the money than subject itself to public scrutiny, and survivors generally prefer to avoid the increased emotional turmoil of a trial. “There was one survivor who went through 11 days of questioning, of deposition,” Roosa says. “The defense lawyers can make it so painful.”
“If you bend a young plant, it grows at an angle,” Roosa says. “Child sex abuse bends the character and maturation of a person—the abuse isn’t the injury as much as the effect it has on people.”