Skip to comments.Weakland's views take on new meaning after scandal
Posted on 05/26/2002 6:10:13 PM PDT by brewcrew
In public musings over 25 years, Rembert G. Weakland - perhaps more than any other U.S. bishop - shared his deepest thoughts on delicate matters such as the struggle to remain celibate, sexual misconduct by priests and homosexuality in the clergy.
That candor, juxtaposed with the jarring new allegations about his private life, now has opened Weakland's past actions to unprecedented scrutiny and hindsight.
How much, the faithful are left to wonder, did Weakland's struggles with sexual questions and the until-now private accusations of abuse against him color his actions in defending and dealing with priests in similar situations over the years? How did they affect his controversial views about teenage victims in such cases?
Only Weakland, ultimately, can provide the whole truth. But there is no shortage of clues on the public record about the archbishop's views on these topics - statements that now seem fraught with added meaning.
Weakland, one of America's most prominent liberal bishops, was granted his retirement last week after a former Milwaukee man revealed he was paid $450,000 in 1998 to remain silent about his claim that Weakland sexually assaulted him as an adult more than 20 years earlier.
Paul Marcoux, now 54, alleged that Weakland made unwanted sexual overtures to him on several occasions. Weakland flatly denies that he has abused anyone. He confided to District Attorney E. Michael McCann years ago that he had a consensual sexual affair with a man, McCann says. McCann said it's clear to him Weakland was talking about Marcoux.
In a letter to Marcoux in August 1980, Weakland declared his love for the former theology student but said he couldn't maintain the relationship. He said he needed to face up to his commitment to the vow of sexual abstinence the Catholic Church demands.
Marcoux says he did not come to view the relationship as abusive until 1997, when he confronted Weakland and threatened to sue.
But, in a glimpse of what was to come, Weakland in 1980 already felt pressured by an emotionally fragile Marcoux's requests for "church money" to fund a religious video project, according to Weakland's letter to Marcoux. Weakland wrote that Marcoux had put him in "an impossible situation."
Several months later, in spring 1981, Weakland wrote a letter to all priests in the 10-county archdiocese on a topic he would address often - in sometimes conflicting ways - over the years: celibacy.
In it, he urged a commitment to celibacy but said lapses were inevitable and should be treated with compassion. He counseled priests to get help from spiritual counselors if they struggled.
"Please do not feel that you must bear such burdens alone. None of us should ever be shocked when the weaker side of all or any of us may appear."
The letter, and related comments to reporters at the time, seemed to echo the intense emotional conflict in Weakland's own life, as revealed in his August 1980 letter to Marcoux.
In the 1980 letter, Weakland agonized about the toll the relationship had taken on his prayer life and on attention to his duties.
Months later, he wrote to priests: "Sexuality, while an integral dimension of human existence to be acknowledged . . . can also become a pervasive and domineering preoccupation in one's life."
Around the time of the priest letter, the Milwaukee Sentinel published a series of articles exploring the issue of gays in the Christian clergy and their struggles with their sexual orientation and sexual abstinence. At the time, a small but increasing number of clergy around the country were acknowledging publicly their homosexuality.
Weakland, interviewed then by Sentinel reporters, said he believed the thousand priests of the archdiocese "were as clean as any other I have ever seen" on remaining celibate.
Celibacy, he said, had liberated him to be of greater service to the church and to others than if he had been married.
He said sexuality was "a very positive aspect of the human person, something that has to grow and develop. And, so today, maybe (priests) take greater risks in terms of intimacy, getting to know other people."
Those risks, he said "are very dangerous for immature people. No doubt about that." Celibacy, he said, "was not for everybody."
He would not, he told the reporters, put a gay priest on a "guilt trip."
He also spoke at length about homosexuality in general and how society forced gays into their own subculture.
Months earlier, in the letter to Marcoux in which he seems to be trying to break off the relationship, Weakland addressed the celibacy issue in personal terms.
"I feel like the world's worst hypocrite. So gradually I came back to the importance of celibacy in my life - not just a physical celibacy but the freedom the celibate commitment gives."
He concluded: "There is no other way for me to live, Paul."
At other times, Weakland mused over the negatives that celibacy meant for the church and its priests. In a profile in the New Yorker in 1991, Weakland spoke candidly about the intense loneliness inherent in the celibate life, and of his attraction to women.
"While I see the great merit in celibacy - the freedom it gives you - perhaps there are people who can't make that sacrifice. And yet we continue to demand that they do - if they want to be priests. Across the board, celibacy works to our detriment in the church."
Weakland has repeatedly drawn fire from conservatives for raising the possibility of changes in Catholic orthodoxy that bars married or female priests and denounces homosexuality. He called for equal rights for gays. He supported a gay Catholic organization and was active on AIDS issues. He pushed for a greater role for women in the church.
At other times in his career, Weakland stunned even his supporters with what were viewed as insensitive comments about sexual abuse victims.
In 1988, a column Weakland wrote in the Catholic Herald drew criticism from a judge, a sexual assault prosecutor and advocates for victims of assault. In the column, Weakland said some adolescent sex abuse victims were "not so innocent" and were sexually active, streetwise and aggressive.
Just last week, in his regular Catholic Herald column written before the Marcoux revelations, Weakland expressed his regret over those comments.
"During the first discussions on pedophilia some 12 to 15 years ago I made some serious and infelicitous remarks . . . about some teens who were very street-wise and sexually very active. I may have given the impression that some teen-age victims of sexual abuse by a priest were somehow responsible. Trying to explain what I wanted to say just got me deeper and deeper into trouble."
He concluded: "I have never denied that the priest is fully responsible for the abuse of minors, given his position of power." The column is in the May 23 issue of the archdiocese's weekly newspaper.
In 1988, Weakland drew a rebuke from one of Wisconsin's highest courts for his defensive response in 1984 to three teachers who blew the whistle to Weakland about sexual abuses by a Milwaukee priest, Father Dennis Pecore, then of Mother of Good Counsel Church, court records show.
Weakland wrote to the teachers - who had reported their allegations in a letter to Weakland - that "any libelous material found in your letter will be scrutinized carefully by our lawyers."
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals later chastised Weakland's response to the teachers as "abrupt" and "insensitive."
In a 1994 interview with a Milwaukee Journal reporter, Weakland discussed his belief that true pedophilia among priests was rare. Instead, most of the priests who had trouble were attracted to teenage boys, he said - relationships he referred to as "affairs."
"What happens so often in those cases is that they go on for a few years and then the boy gets a little older and the perpetrator loses interest," Weakland told a reporter. "Then is when the squealing comes in and you have to deal with it."
The "squealing" comment was on Weakland's mind this month.
In what turns out to be his last column for the Catholic Herald as archbishop, Weakland discussed verbal lapses he had made on a variety of topics during his 25 years as archbishop.
"I talked in some interviews about teens being rejected and then 'squealing.' I do not remember ever using this infelicitous word, but someone must have dug it out of some interview and it now returns to haunt me. I deeply regret it."
Over the years, Weakland, who was popular with priests in the archdiocese, clearly worried that abuse allegations against a small minority of clergy would taint all priests.
"They feel guilty by association and fear that everyone is looking askance at them or is suspicious of them," he wrote in 1992 after another priest assault case had surfaced.
"They could also come to feel that only the perfect can minister to others or that they are to be superhuman. Through this crisis priests need to be reassured by the entire Catholic community that they are loved and supported."
Anything goes, of course he was popular.
I'm afraid that it's pretty much too late, and the damage is done. I can't see any parent of a Catholic teenage boy EVER looking at any priest with the trust that was given in the past.
I am one father of teenage boys who cannot. I will never allow my teenage sons to be alone with a priest, EVER. I have had to explain to them, reluctantly, that a good portion of the priests in the Church are homosexual, a good many are active homosexuals, and a not insubstantial number are homosexual teenage boy molesters. I abhor the fact that my sons have been forced to contemplate this (before they have even developed a good perspective on normal sexuality). Further, I have NO FAITH in priests teaching my sons about authentic Catholic sexual morality. The Church is entirely responsible for grossly devaluing the esteem with which people hold priests.
Why? Sklba's in a position to be a hero. Unless he has some of the same skeletons in his closet....
It's all the human drive toward rationalization. Instead of saying "I goofed. I am a sinner, and I have repented (or need to repent)," he tries to cast it in the best light possible, hoping that God sees it that way too. I don't think God wears those same rose-colored glasses.
In Christian teaching isn't such conduct by its nature the abuse of another person made in the image of God, whether consensual or not?
Either abuse of another of God's children, or abuse of power, or abuse of one of God's gifts to man, namely the gift of sexual expression of love between a man and a woman who are married to each other. Any way you slice it, it appears to be something which separates the bishop from God, not brings him closer. In my book, that's sin. And he needs to repent and make the proper reparations.
You are right. I hope Weakland replaces his rationalizations with the 'ABC's' of true repentence; Acknowledgment, Brokenness, and Confession, and may he find the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God;
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts  ;
you teach  me wisdom in the inmost place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are  a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
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