Deacon José Montoya, 52, shows how he was attacked outside the church at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey July 1 by a man who said the devil told him to throw the punch. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Deacon José Montoya, 52, shows how he was attacked outside the church at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey July 1 by a man who said the devil told him to throw the punch. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
LAFAYETTE — Deacon José Montoya stares in horror. What if the vicious surprise punch had hit an elderly monk instead of his own face? Such a blow might have killed a frailer man. And what if the attacker had wielded a knife or a gun?

Deacon Montoya, a permanent deacon assigned to St. Peter Parish in Newberg, works full time as physical plant manager for Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey near Lafayette. On the morning of July 1, he was supervising a landscape crew alongside the abbey church. He and the workers had noticed a stocky muscular man walk past and into the house of prayer, like dozens of worshippers do every day. But when the visitor came out minutes later, he silently walked behind Deacon Montoya, who turned just as the man threw a hard punch. The fist smashed into the deacon’s left eyebrow and sent him off balance.

The 31-year-old attacker did not run, but stood his ground defiantly. In a natural reaction, the 52-year-old deacon put up his fists to defend himself, even as he asked the silent puncher to explain himself. A fistfight ensued, with the deacon pushing the man to the ground to subdue him and then falling himself. The attacker leapt to his feet and started kicking the deacon furiously.

When Deacon Montoya got up, the man ran toward an abbey building that guests and monks frequent.

“Your instinct is, ‘Hey what is he going to do? I don’t want him to go into any room to hide,” Deacon Montoya recalled.

The deacon pursued the man and tackled him among some shrubs. Eventually, the shocked landscapers came to help and hold down the attacker, who thrashed and shouted in Spanish that the devil had told him to throw the punches.

Deacon Montoya kept one hand on the man and used the other to call police. In nine minutes, five Yamhill County Sherriff’s squad cars arrived.

Officers immediately recognized the intruder as Milton Martinez Carmona, a resident of the Dayton area with a long record of mayhem. He was already on probation because in 2017 he led police on a high speed chase over a road that was not yet open. Recently, he broke the windows of his parents’ home with a metal pipe and was convicted of groping female employees at the McDonald’s in Newberg. Carmona, who has a history of not showing up for court appearances, appears to suffer from mental illness and addiction to methamphetamines.

For the abbey attack, Carmona was charged with misdemeanor assault.

“In a way I am glad that I am the one who was attacked,” Deacon Montoya said. “We have so many volunteers, elderly people who come for retreats, elderly monks. What if he had hit one of the brothers, one of the priests? That would be devastating.”

Some on social media have criticized Deacon Montoya, claiming he should have turned the other cheek as Jesus taught. On the other end of the spectrum, others have teased him in an admiring way, calling him “The Deaconator.”

He takes it all in stride. But he is a gentle man, and his defensive response troubles him even though he knows it was the right thing to do under the circumstances.

“My reaction was different than what I expected as a deacon, as a man of the church,” he said. “I feel like in a way, oh my goodness, I shouldn’t have reacted that way. But it takes over. The adrenaline rush — it just went.”

For the first two nights after the attack, he could not sleep, agonizing over the memory.

Deacon Montoya wants people to know that he had no intention to hurt Carmona, just to subdue him for everyone’s safety. “In reality, my intention was to protect myself and I wanted to stop the threat.”

He has pondered Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek. “I know Jesus would do it because he is perfect, but I am not perfect,” he said.

The night of the assault, he settled down as usual with his wife to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. They prayed especially hard for Carmona.

Deacon Montoya is from a big family with five brothers, so he got into some boyhood scraps. But he’s never been hit like this before. The attack was all the more jarring for him because the abbey is a place where so many people come for holy peace.

“Deacon José’s quick thinking and strong response to bring a dangerous situation safely to a close may well have protected others who were at the abbey,” said Deacon Brian Diehm, director of the Office for the Diaconate at the Archdiocese of Portland.

“The good shepherd is to love, serve and lay down his life for his sheep. But he also has to protect the flock from the wolves,” said Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith. “Deacon Montoya acted to protect not only himself but guests at the abbey and the monks.”

The deacon does not want to be called a hero. “I think I was doing my job: To protect the property, protect the people who are here,” he said.

The July 1 assault was a violent turn in a two-year string of incidents at the abbey, 2.5 miles north of Highway 99. Transients have sought to live in the parking lot, one in a stolen rental truck, and mentally ill people have wandered into the church. One vandal entered a confessional and marked the walls and a Bible with graffiti.

The monks have a keen sense of hospitality and don’t make much fuss about the troubles. They leave their 1,300-acre grounds open to hikers, as many as 50 per day. But Deacon Montoya said that some visitors lack respect, leaving garbage and failing to clean up after their dogs. Poachers have hunted on the land, with some gunmen shooting signs.

Conversations are underway at the abbey about better security, with the July 1 attack providing urgency to the topic.