Suing the Church
Lawyers Include Man Who Successfully Sued As Clergy Sex Abuse Victim
By Nicole Tsong
Anchorage Daily News [New York]
October 26, 2003
As a former prosecutor, Kenneth Roosa has seen how sexual predators use their power to control victims. But when it came to sexual misconduct in the Roman Catholic Church, he realized an additional force clawed at the emotions of the abused.
Victims like one of Roosa's clients, a Native man from the Yukon River village of St. Marys, still cry when they remember how the abuse violated their trust in a priest.
Roosa needed an expert who could explain that sense of violation to a jury and speak knowledgeably about the Catholic Church. This year, he found John Manly, a California attorney with dozens of cases against the church and ties to experts.
Through Manly, he also found someone who has become Roosa's Catholic interpreter: a former Benedictine priest who became disillusioned with the church over its cover-ups of sexual and financial misdeeds.
The ex-priest, Patrick Wall, now works for Manly's law firm, along with a younger lawyer, Ryan DiMaria, who was abused by a priest and was the first such victim represented by Manly.
Roosa is suing the Fairbanks Diocese and the Jesuits on behalf of six men from the Yukon River villages of St. Marys and Kaltag, named in court papers only as John Doe One through John Doe Six. Manly and his firm have become an integral part of Roosa's team in his lawsuit against the church hierarchy.
The six men say they were fondled by the Rev. Jules Convert, a Jesuit priest who ministered to Yukon River parishes from the 1940s through 1988, according to court documents.
The Diocese of Fairbanks and the Jesuits are trying to get the suit thrown out because the events happened so long ago. They have not yet responded directly to the allegations. In a statement, the Jesuits said no one had ever filed a sexual misconduct complaint against Convert.
Born in France, Convert returned there and died in 1995.
Roosa's experience in prosecuting sex abusers for the state proved no match for navigating the labyrinths of canonical law and the record-keeping and personnel structures of diocesan Catholicism and the Society of Jesus, with their roots in the Middle Ages and Roman law.
Talking with Catholic experts "certainly opened my eyes," Roosa said. "Not being a Catholic, ... not being taught from an infant that priests stood between you and God and were your portal to salvation and critical to your immortal soul, I didn't understand just how incredibly devastating it is to be touched or molested or inappropriately dealt with by a priest."
Manly's firm is giving Roosa a knowledge base and experience level that he was unable to find in Alaska when it comes to Catholic abuse lawsuits, Roosa said.
The strength of that staff lies in a trinity of men with disparate Catholic experiences. Manly, 38, who calls himself a "cradle Catholic," having grown up in the church, has worked steadily on priest abuse cases since his first lawsuit against an arm of the Catholic Church was filed in 1997. He is passionate about holding the church hierarchy accountable for sexual abuse within its ranks.
Manly's first client, Ryan DiMaria, 30, now a lawyer working on Catholic cases at Manly's firm, brings an empathetic ear to victims and an understanding that can't be learned. And Wall, 38, who left the priesthood in 1998 and joined the firm last year, interprets the often incomprehensible language and culture of the church and brings his experience as a priest who "fixed" sex abuse and financial scandals in Minnesota.
"For better or for worse, we're fortunate we do have the makeup our firm has," DiMaria said recently in a telephone interview from his Costa Mesa, Calif., law office. "You have to absolutely know you can trust your attorney. It helps the fact that I'm a victim and Pat is a priest that left and John did my case."
CLIENTS DID NOT HAVE A VOICE
Manly's firm, Manly & McGuire, is preoccupied with about 70 other sexual abuse cases, most of them in California and Arizona. But when Roosa asked him to assist on the St. Marys case, Manly felt compelled to add the six men to his roster.
"The clients in these cases are wonderful people that probably were more vulnerable than any set of clients we have," Manly said. "They did not have a voice."
Until the mid-1990s, Manly's firm had about as much experience with Catholic abuse cases as Roosa -- zero. Manly's focus was real estate law when he met DiMaria.
By the time DiMaria went to Manly, his parents and the bishop of Orange County already knew about his abuse by Monsignor Michael Harris.
As a teenager, DiMaria went to Harris, a charismatic and immensely popular priest, for counseling after a friend committed suicide. Those therapy sessions resulted in several sessions of fondling and oral copulation that frightened him and paralyzed him at the same time, DiMaria said.
At his worst moments, the abuse made him suicidal. But he turned to his parents and confided in them a few years after the abuse ended, he said. His father took that information to the bishop of Orange County.
DiMaria expected diocese officials to be shocked by his story. But they weren't. He never got a satisfying response, he said, and they made it seem like they had never heard allegations like his before. Frustrated, he turned to Manly and enlisted his help to get some money from the church for therapy.
DiMaria wanted about $150,000 for lifelong therapy and asked church officials to admit that Harris was a perpetrator. The diocese refused, Manly said.
In 1997, he sued the Los Angeles and Orange County dioceses. A year later, Manly said they asked for a settlement of $1 million. The church again refused. In August 2001, the two dioceses settled with DiMaria for $5.2 million, the largest pre-trial settlement ever by the church at the time, Manly said.
As part of the settlement, Harris, who still denies the allegations, was removed from the priesthood. And the Los Angeles Archdiocese now has a no-tolerance policy that removes all priests accused of sexual abuse immediately, Manly said.
That lawsuit has colored DiMaria's experience as a lawyer.
When he sued, people were not getting huge settlements from the church like the one he eventually won, he said. DiMaria brought the case, he said, because he felt it was the only way to make the church stop supporting sexual predators.
"I wouldn't be able to recommend to someone to go through the litigation process if I didn't completely believe in its ability to help people on a personal level," he said.
Manly hired DiMaria as a law clerk shortly after his settlement, the same year he graduated from law school in Orange County. DiMaria finds being a lawyer for people like him to be therapeutic.
"I just don't know (how) I could pass up working with the victims," he said.
After the settlement, Manly wrote an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times that was read by the person who now forms the third part of the troika.
Patrick Wall was working in freight sales when he read Manly's piece. The story struck a chord with him.
In a recent interview in Anchorage during a visit with Roosa, Wall said he called Manly and told him, "You've got the right thesis. Keep going in the direction you're going with."
Eventually he and Manly developed a rapport, and Manly called him periodically whenever he had trouble deciphering church culture. Then one day, Manly realized he should just hire Wall.
"He just is a tremendous asset," Manly said. "He has a knowledge of the church and the hierarchy and church finances that's just unparalleled."
Wall's formal education began when he was an undergraduate at Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minn. After he graduated, he became a Benedictine monk at Saint John's Abbey and then entered the seminary to study for the priesthood. He was ordained at Saint John's in 1992.
Wall came from an Irish Catholic family, and priests were highly respected. Wall's first exposure to the sexual abuse scandal came during his last year in seminary. One day, the abbot went to his cell and asked him to move immediately to replace a faculty resident in a dormitory at Saint John's University.
The abbot wouldn't tell Wall why the adviser had left, but Wall said he pretty much knew. The year before, nine sexual abuse cases broke in one day at Saint John's.
After he was ordained, he progressed through different churches in the Saint Paul Archdiocese as part of its damage control for sexual abuse scandals, he said.
The culture of the Roman Catholic Church is to take care of issues internally and avoid scandal to maintain the faith of its followers, he said.
Wall, who still displays an all-American wholesomeness and a football player's build, thinks he was asked to go to troubled parishes because he portrayed the right image for the church.
"The severity grew, and the complexity of issues, as I went along," Wall recalled.
At his last post as administrator of a church in Stillwater, Minn., there were multiple sexual abuse problems, he said. There he had his epiphany. After "six years in the box" and hearing confessions from kids, adults and priests, Wall said he finally understood that all people fail and that that eventually would mean him as well.
He wondered, "Do I want to live an inauthentic life?"
The church wasn't going to change, Wall said. So he did. He applied to be laicized, or removed from the priesthood, in 1998.
That decision cut him off completely from the church, he said. He left without any savings or pension and was no longer allowed to formally pass on his extensive knowledge of theology.
But since he started working for Manly about a year ago, he said, he feels he is helping more people now than he did as a priest.
"We're truly being advocates for people who have no advocates," he said. "There's no way to find relief for victims inside the church."
NO BELIEF IN HEIRARCHY
Manly devotes about 50 percent of his time these days to Catholic sexual abuse cases, something he never expected from his career.
"If you had told me 10 years ago I'd spend half my life suing Catholic dioceses, I would have laughed," he said from his California office. "That's the tradition I grew up in."
Peter M. Callahan, a lawyer for the Orange County diocese who first met Manly when DiMaria filed his lawsuit, said in a telephone interview that Manly is a bright, tenacious lawyer.
"He can be difficult sometimes, but sometimes, that's part of his job," Callahan said.
Manly still attends church regularly and said he believes deeply in his faith, just not the hierarchy. Wall, who is now married with a child, also attends Mass regularly. But DiMaria, who got married in the Catholic Church as a favor to his wife, can't bring himself to raise his children Catholic, he said.
Ken Roosa is the only non-Catholic in the group representing the John Does from St. Marys and Kaltag. He was raised with a father who was an Assembly of God minister. But he has learned quickly about Catholicism.
"Now I understand what's going on at least in an intellectual way," Roosa said. "I don't think anyone who hasn't been themselves a victim of religious perpetrators can really know how deep that betrayal is."
Despite the still informal assistance from Manly's firm, the St. Marys case has encountered some hurdles. The Fairbanks diocese and the Jesuits are trying to get the case dismissed, arguing the statutes of limitation have run on the cases from the 1970s and the one in Kaltag, which allegedly took place in the 1950s.
Arguments about the statutes of limitation were made before Bethel Superior Court Judge Dale Curda on Sept. 29. The judge has not yet handed down a ruling.
An Anchorage judge already struck down a civil case filed against the Anchorage archdiocese in the 1990s based on the statute of limitations, though the law has been modified since then.
Fairbanks church officials say there are no records and no witnesses available for them to determine whether the allegations are true in the St. Marys case. John Doe One settled with the diocese for $30,000 in September, though his lawsuit against the Jesuits is ongoing.
The plaintiffs' lawyers expect the case to be tough. "It is hardball," Manly said. "It is nasty. It is brutal."
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