Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Lawyer Struggles with His Church's Seamy Side: Working on Sex Abuse Cases, Catholic Encounters `Emotionally Gutted' Clients, Bishops' `Crocodile Tears'. (Church in Crisis)

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Lawyer Struggles with His Church's Seamy Side: Working on Sex Abuse Cases, Catholic Encounters `Emotionally Gutted' Clients, Bishops' `Crocodile Tears'. (Church in Crisis)

Article excerpt

Few in the Catholic hierarchy probably feel much sympathy for a Catholic lawyer suing them in a molestation case. But that doesn't mean the Catholic lawyer's religious life and training isn't being personally pummeled when he pushes into the mire that is the Catholic church's sexual mess.

In Costa Mesa, Calif., 39-year-old John Manly--educated at Catholic institutions--has "close to 30" sexual abuse cases against the church in California on his personal docket at the law firm of Manly & McGuire. He won't send his young children to Catholic schools nor let them be altar servers when they reach that age.

"Sorry," he said, obviously uncomfortable.

He's been uncomfortable for seven years, looking at the seamy side of the church.

In the 1990s, as today, the bulk of Manly's practice is representing litigants in commercial real estate suits. He had some general practice. But neither he nor his then-partner, also a Catholic, were prepared for what happened in 1995 when two parents brought to Manly's office their son who told of his abuse by a Catholic high school principal.

"To be honest with you," said Manly, "I believed the hierarchy, and I believed the [Cardinal Joseph] Bernardin thing as an example of false allegations. I believed there was something to [the pedophilia crisis] but very small.

"My clients basically wanted to get their son [Ryan DiMaria] enough money for psychological counseling and help him get a start in life," he said. "The son had just graduated from college, and they asked to meet first with [Orange County Bishop Norman McFarland] and asked him for $150,000."

The diocese, said Manly, "told them to basically go fly a kite, but less polite than that. So we sued. Four and a half years later my clients settled for millions of dollars."

In fact, $5.2 million--plus new mandatory sex abuse guidelines, including a zero-tolerance policy the Los Angeles archdiocese had to set, in the judge's words, "in concrete." The Orange County diocese is related to the Los Angeles archdiocese as a suffragan diocese.

Manly, who attended a military school run by the Dominicans, then Mater Del High School, and the University of San Diego, said the "fabulous education I got as a Catholic" hadn't prepared him for "taking depositions from bishops and chancellors. You have the truth staring you in the face in the documents, and they basically look at you and deny. It really radically reforms your view of the hierarchy."

The denial, he believes, is at the core of the "legal reality the American bishops have single-handedly exposed themselves to--hundreds of millions, ff not billions of dollars, in liability through 30 or 40 years of basically screwing over the faithful.

"I'm sick of the crocodile tears," said Manly. "I was in the Navy Reserve, and when a ship runs aground, the captain goes. And you know what? The captains haven't left. The American bishops and their organization who perpetrated this, the ones who knew about this before anybody else did, who put the scheme in place to cover it up, and who did nothing about it when they could have, I hold them personally responsible.

"The truth is," he said, "there's thousands of kids and adults walking around this country that don't have their faith. They are emotionally gutted and are going to be emotionally ruined for the rest of their lives. The people to blame? Sorry, but they're wearing the red hats in this country."

Manly sees the issue in terms of the cover-ups, the victims, the perpetrators, and the other sufferers. "What's interesting about people that have really been victimized is they tend to understate what has happened to them. I'm certainly not a paragon of virtue. I've done things in my life--I'm like everybody else. I'm a human being. But the only emotion I can describe," when contemplating the victims, he said, "is pure empathy."

The perpetrators he sees linked to "a crisis of faith. …

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