Former Priest Now Advocates for Priest Abuse Victims
By Kay Fate
December 17, 2013
Pat Wall was ordained in December 1993, serving as a Roman Catholic priest and Benedictine monk for five years.
He left the Winona Diocese in 1998, "because every (parish) assignment I had was to follow a priest-pedophile," he said last week.
Now, he's on the other side of the collar, so to speak. Wall, an attorney with Jeff Anderson and Associates of St. Paul, advocates for and represents victims of abuse by priests.
A list of 14 priests accused of sexual abuse released Monday by the Winona Diocese will likely add to those ranks, but the list tells only part of the picture, Wall said.
"It doesn't say what the bishops knew, when they knew it and what they did about it," he said at a news conference Monday. "It doesn't say which parishes the priests were serving" when the accusations were leveled.
Wall admits he, too, has struggled with the depth of the abuse and subsequent deception.
"I had to reconcile the fact that (the priest) I served as an altar boy for as a kid was the same guy moving Tom Adamson around the diocese," he said.
Adamson, now 80 and a resident of Rochester, has been at the center of multiple lawsuits against the diocese, alleging officials moved him from parish to parish, allowing the abuse to continue. He was one of the 14 priests named Monday.
A graduate of Lake City High School, Wall attended St. John's University in Collegeville and then became a monk at St. John's Abbey.
"I trained to be a historian and canon lawyer," he said, "and I ended up being a cleaner and a fixer. I didn't want to be a defense lawyer the rest of my life, so I left."
Wall spent 15 years at the district attorney's office in San Diego, Calif. When the Child Victims Act was approved by the Minnesota Legislature in May, he got a call from Anderson.
"He asked if I'd come home and help do some cleaning," Wall said.
He predicts multiple victims will come forward over the next three years as a result of the law, which eliminated the requirement that victims of abuse must file civil suits within six years of becoming an adult. It does not affect the statute of limitations in criminal cases.
Wall says what the church did over the years to conceal child abuse issues was a matter of obedience.
"The church is your family," he said. "You leave the world, in a way. It's your financial security, your social security. You're always 'Father.' There's really no identity outside of that title. The implicit policy is avoidance of scandal, protection of the institution.
"If you take away the veneer of the ecclesiastical stuff and look at it as a business, you see it as dudes wearing dresses, running a big institution," Wall said. "You have to strip away the holy. We want to expect more from it because it's holy, but they look at it as a big business, so we have to look at it like that, too."
The church has paid out more than $3 billion in settlements, reports say; Wall said the church itself is worth more than a trillion dollars. He calls it the largest, oldest, financially strongest dominant institution in the country.
"Money is not the issue," he said of the abuse cases. "Power and exposure are the issue. Really, the money isn't theirs; it's given to them.
The legal department "looks at every single possible legal motive to weaken a case (against the church) or get it thrown out," Wall said, and moves money around.
A common defense is that their actions are protected by the First Amendment, he said: The right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference.
"I like to tell the story of my mom; I used to come home to Lake City and tell stories about cases I was working on — no names — but the crap that I was working on," Wall said of his time as a priest. "She honestly didn't want to believe it. It was not philosophically possible for a Roman Catholic priest to sodomize or rape little kids.
"But I knew better, because I know quite a few of them personally."
Despite the fact that hundreds of people — including the victims — knew about the abuse, a change in response will likely take years, Wall said.
"I believe there'll be no fundamental change until a vicar general or a bishop goes to jail," he said, all while acknowledging the turn his life has taken.
"I believe what I'm doing is a fulfillment of the priesthood, helping the weakest among us," Wall said. "There are none who are more vulnerable than those who have been abused by a priest.
"I'm a better person for having worked with them, and hopefully, they're better now, too."