by Peter W. Miller
The liberal liturgist's shameful departure
On May 23rd, Catholics across America started their Thursday mornings with another in a long string of shocking revelations as Paul Marcoux went on ABC's "Good Morning America" and accused longtime Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland of sexual assault. Additionally, Marcoux revealed that in 1998 Weakland paid him a sum of $450,000 to keep their "relationship" quiet. Now 53 years old, Marcoux was a theology student at Marquette University 20 years prior when he approached the archbishop for advice on going into the priesthood. It was during this encounter that the alleged abuse took place.1
In a statement released the same day, Weakland denied the abuse accusation but refused to comment on the financial arrangement, deferring to its confidentiality clause:
"I have never abused anyone. I have not seen Paul Marcoux for more than 20 years. Because I accept the agreement's confidentiality provision, I will make no comment about its contents." 2
Except that the intent of the confidentially provision was for Marcoux's silence, not the archbishop's. That same day, Weakland, who almost two months earlier had reached the mandatory age of retirement and submitted his resignation to Rome, asked that his pending request be expedited. The Vatican announced acceptance of Weakland's retirement that next day. Bishop Richard J. Sklba took over interim leadership of the archdiocese and delivered the following tribute:
"Therefore we enter this new moment 'living the truth in love' (Eph 4:15) and remembering Archbishop Weakland with the respect and love he has earned from his dedicated public service in our midst for the past quarter of a century." 3
If there is any justice, he will indeed get every bit of respect he has earned for himself. After a week of near seclusion, Weakland returned to the spotlight to deliver a hollow apology:
"I come before you today to apologize and beg forgiveness. ... I apologize to all the faithful of this Archdiocese ... for the scandal that has occurred because of my sinfulness. Long ago, I placed that sinfulness in God's loving and forgiving heart, but now and into the future I worry about those whose faith may be shaken by my acts. I acknowledge and fully accept my responsibility for the inappropriate nature of my relationship with Mr. Paul Marcoux. I apologize for any harm done him. At that time, 1979, I did not understand that responsibility in the same way as I do now. I have come to see and understand the way in which the power of the Roman collar can work in such relationships and, even more so, a bishop's miter." 4
After which he knelt before the altar and received a 90-second standing ovation from the congregation/audience. Lest we are tempted to carelessly join in this amnesic love-fest, remember that it takes very little courage to admit wrongdoing and deliver an apology only after one has been publicly exposed and no options to continue hiding the scandal with power and money remain. The whole world found out what he had done and were presented with two indisputable pieces of evidence. Weakland had the choice of fading into obscurity and denial or salvaging what remained of his respectability with a Jimmy Swaggart routine. For someone who loves the spotlight and values his "work" as much as Weakland does, he was left with no choice. However contrite and worthy of forgiveness this fallen prelate may now be, it does not negate the damage done over the past thirty-five years, nor does it change at all the lessons that must be learned.
Exhibit A: The "Love" Letter
Besides the nearly one half million dollars effectively stolen from the Milwaukee Archdiocese and paid to him in exchange for silence, Marcoux would produce a second piece of evidence a letter written by hand from Weakland to Marcoux on August 25th 1980 (http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/may02/45574.asp).
There is little more incriminating than admissions made with your own words in your own handwriting. This correspondence, read by tens of thousands in a matter of days, started out with the ironic concern that:
"My mother's sage advice ... was to warn me that I should not put down on paper what I would not want the whole world to read. But here goes anyway." 5
Weakland goes on to discuss his personal rediscovery of celibacy's importance perhaps about as close to admitting a sexual relationship as one can come:
"During the last months I have come to know how strained I was ... I just did not seem to be honest with God. I felt I was fleeing from Him, from facing Him. I know what the trouble was: I was letting your conscience take over for me and I couldn't live with it. I felt like the world's worst hypocrite. So gradually I came back to the importance of celibacy in my life ... I knew I would have to face up to it and take seriously that commitment I first made thirty-four years ago. ... There is no other way for me to live, Paul. Ridicule me if you must I am expecting it. Say I am seeking escapes, but I must be me. I know now that I can never be to you a Don or anybody else." 6
He also struggles with the idea of carelessly squandering diocesan funds:
"After that visit I knew how much you needed money to bring off that Christodrama project and how much you counted on me for it. ... Paul, I really have given you all that I personally possess. The $14,000 is really my personal limit: it was the money I got from my community when I became a bishop and I simply do not have private funds. What I can now do personally to help you will be minimal. I know you are pushing me for Church money, for some sort of Church support for the Midwest Institute of Christodrama. I feel you are putting me in an impossible situation here. I consider all that Church money as a sacred trust; it represents the offerings of faithful and I must be accountable to them for how it is all spent. There are hundreds of requests on my desk for funds for worthy causes, for inner city projects, to the elderly, to the handicapped, etc. Hardly a day goes past I don't have to turn down such projects. I simply do not see how I can authorize money for your project. It is not because I don't love you..." 7
Apparently, similar scruples did not come into play eighteen years later when a half million dollars in hush money was handed over. The letter concludes:
"I love you.
The crux of this note was Archbishop Weakland explaining to Paul Marcoux that he could not donate funds from the archdiocese to support his project. While abuse was not apparent and Marcoux came out looking like a manipulative con artist, the evidence of a homosexual relationship is hard to overlook.
While it is unclear exactly what Marcoux's "Christodrama" is all about, it appears to be a cross between modern theater and biblical story-telling. Considering Weakland's involvement, the praise it has received from such groups as Call-to-Action and Dignity, as well as its acceptance in the Archdiocese of Seattle during the 1980's, it's safe to assume that "Christodrama" did not set any new high marks for orthodoxy.
Tolerance and hypocrisy
In his letter to Marcoux, Archbishop Weakland said he felt like the world's worst hypocrite which is pretty much how he looked when this had all come to pass. Not more than a month before, Weakland was banging the war drums against abusive priests and openly advocating the implementation of a "zero tolerance," "one strike" policy in Milwaukee. Considering Weakland's past actions with abusive priests, this transparent PR attempt didn't fool many for long. Take for example the tolerance and compassion shown in the case of Fr. Effinger:
"Father Effinger was not inhibited by any sacredness of site or symbols from raping his victimwhose shamefaced agony was so obvious to his mother the next morning, when she went to see him serve Mass, that she quickly got the story from him and took it to Archbishop Weakland, who promised her that Father Effinger would be reassigned where he would not have access to children. ... Father Effinger was reassigned to a parish by Weakland, where he was convicted of molesting another boy and sentenced to ten years in prison, where he died. When the boy finally brought suit for damages, a judge threw out the case because the statute of limitations had expiredand the archdiocese successfully countersued for the $4,000 it had spent on the court procedure." 9
Shuffling abusive priests, manipulating the legal system to take advantage of loopholes and counter-suing victims are all techniques that every Catholic should have "zero tolerance" for. At the time when Marcoux's allegations were aired, there were at least six priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that Weakland allowed to continue serving in parishes even though they were facing sexual abuse allegations.
And then there's Weakland's famous "blame the victim" mentality as printed in May of 1988 by Milwaukee's own diocesan newspaper. When discussing the topic of sexual abuse of children, Weakland asserted that:
"Not all adolescent victims are so innocent. Some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise. We frequently try such adolescents for crimes as adults at that age." 10
Given the Marcoux story, it is not completely ridiculous to think that part of this knowledge was gained through personal experience. On at least two subsequent occasions, Weakland tried to distance himself from those foolish remarks, attempting to repeatedly justify and alter the context before finally giving up.
With Catholics in Milwaukee and elsewhere understandably outraged that $450,000 in hush money was handed over, Weakland offered the feeble justification that the money he had personally earned from articles and lectures over the years far exceeded that amount. There are many problems with this excuse ranging from the proper duties of a bishop to the nature of diocesan finances, but I'm perhaps most appalled by the fact that he considers the resources obtained by his continued spreading of heterodoxy and liberalism a shield against suspicion of embezzlement and an authorization to use what he himself once called a "sacred trust" as a personal bank account. The move was not only unethical but probably illegal The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on May 28th that the U.S. Attorney's office would conduct an investigation into the source of the funds used for this "settlement."
Not that his justification was in any way sufficient before, but it turned out that his personal earnings did not "far exceed" the pay-off amount but came about $250,000 shy. As Weakland said in his apology:
"This money did not come from the Stewardship Appeal or from any diocesan funds designated for charitable or pastoral work. In my mind, the money I had given the Archdiocese was more than the settlement amount. To my continued embarrassment, I now am told that is not true. In my remaining years I will continue to contribute to the Archdiocese whatever I can and, of course, the Archdiocese will receive whatever effects I own on my death." 11
I'd say he's already contributed enough.
Too liberal for Rome?
In case you're new to the planet, Rembert Weakland has for many years been the one bishop orthodox Catholics in the U.S. have most loved to hate. As the Australian Journal, AD2000 noted in 1992:
Along with Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, Archbishop Weakland has led the push for a far more distinctively "American Church", as independent as possible from Rome. Associated with this 'push' have been Weakland's highly controversial policies and views on abortion, homosexuality, AIDS education, sex education, clerical pedophilia and feminism. Presumably these developments would make the American Church more American. That it would also be less Catholic is equally clear. Whether it would be Catholic at all remains an open question. 12
The long list of Weakland's antics is too extensive to recount in full. To get an idea of the scope, read through the rest of the AD2000 article found here: http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/1992/oct1992p4_773.html.
While perhaps not the worst, Weakland has been the most vocal and visible dissident and rebel against Vatican authority since Hunthausen was forced to retire just over a decade ago. He became the primary lightning rod for conservative/liberal battles a position he freely acknowledged and relished, describing himself as a "maverick" and "rebel" on multiple occasions.
In the past year, faithful Catholics in Milwaukee came to know quite well how much lasting damage could be wrought by one modernist bishop when they saw their cathedral turned into something resembling a pagan temple or a concert hall. Even when lobbyists succeeded in provoking some response from Rome, they were delivered in the form of suggestive recommendations which Weakland flatly refused to consider, asserting his own "independence" or in Vatican II speak, "collegiality".
As in years before, the cathedral controversy resulted in no strong proactive or reactive measures from the Vatican, causing some to hope that the Church hierarchy was just waiting for Weakland to retire. Those hopes were soon called into question when his retirement request (filed on his 75th birthday April 2nd, 2002) was, according to Vatican sources and the Milwaukee Archdiocese, put on indefinite delay, only to be processed when his homosexual and financial scandals were aired on national television. One would think the Vatican would jump at the opportunity to rid the Church of this "maverick" rather than wait nearly two months. Could it be that Rome did not see this man as the scourge Catholics in America did? Could the impressions so many had hoped Rome must have of this man be inaccurate? Since the hand was forced, it's now harder to say. What was shaping up to be an interesting exercise in excuse-making came to a quick end when Rome decided to retire the archbishop rather than let him face the music and be accountable for his actions.
However, at least one valuable lesson can be taken from the quick reaction. Just one day after the news breaking, the retirement of Archbishop Weakland was announced, demonstrating that the Vatican is both keenly aware of what's going on in America and is fully capable of acting swiftly and decisively when it deems fit. While some are quick to label pleas for action as "attacks" when they are raised to the Holy Father and insist that "the Church acts according to its own timeline," lessons from recent history show this timeline to be highly arbitrary.
Weakland and the New Mass
Archbishop Weakland's primary religious interest and the field in which he has been granted "expert" status by numerous publications has been the liturgy. When he wasn't referring to himself as a "maverick" he was relishing his role in the liturgical reform movement. In 1997, the self-described "bishop in the trenches" of the liturgical "renewal" described to the Jesuit magazine America his beliefs on the extent of liturgical abuses:
"I can honestly and truthfully say that the aberrations that arose in the late sixties from excessive zeal and exuberance had begun to run their course and to disappear by the early eighties." 13
If they all disappeared decades ago, what does he consider and aberration? He goes on to lament Pope John Paul II's 1984 indult to "allow" very limited usage of the 1962 missal (under certain specific conditions) as somehow "derailing" the liturgical movement:
"My hopes, however, were shattered. What totally derailed the liturgical renewal, from the point of view of this bishop in the trenches, was the decision of Pope John Paul II made I am sure, with great anguish to grant in 1984 the indult that allowed the Tridentine usage to flourish again. ... Just at the moment when the situation was beginning to settle down and the deeper and more spiritual aspects of the renewal were becoming possible, a whole new battle began, one in which the renewal itself was called into question or where everyone seemed free to project his or her personal views on how the renewal of the Council should have taken place. As well-meaning as that decision to broaden the Tridentine usage was, one cannot emphasize enough how devastating the results have been." 14
Although I, among many, wish what he calls "the renewal" actually had been derailed by the broadened use of the Tridentine Mass, the result has far from substantiated his conclusion. Even such, the reason he took the very questioning of the reforms quite personally was due to his experience with the construction and establishment of the New Mass. Weakland was appointed by Pope Paul VI as a consultor in 1964 and then a voting member in 1968 of the Consilium for the Implementation of the Liturgy after Vatican II.15 But he was much more than just another participant:
Rembert G. Weakland was a key confidant of the pope in January 1968 as one of the most profound changes in Roman Catholic Church history was about to take place. The Second Vatican Council had adopted a document on sacred liturgy, but Paul VI had to implement it and in doing so, replace the 400-year-old Tridentine Mass.
Resistant Vatican officials were pressuring him. He didn't want a schism. To resolve doubts, the Pope tried three versions of the new Mass. Five people, mainly bishops and cardinals, attended each. Only two were at every session Weakland, then the abbot primate or worldwide head of the Benedictine order of monks and priests, and the late Annibale Bugnini, then a monsignor and secretary of the Vatican liturgical commission. Weakland termed the sessions "decisive." 16
There are many Catholics who have stood in opposition to Weakland for as long as they can remember, but will adamantly defend and support the Novus Ordo Missae as the height of perfection and in every sense, above question. Are not the beliefs and dispositions of the men who were involved in devising this missal worth consideration?
The other contributor mentioned and easily the most influential figure in the implementation of the liturgical reforms was the head of the Consilium, alleged Freemason Annibale Bugnini. Also of questionable orthodoxy, Bugnini would be dismissed by his superiors on two separate occasions, ending up spending his later years as Papal Nuncio to Iran a reassignment that makes Fr. Fessio's exile look like the dream promotion of a lifetime.
With the input and support of such individuals, is it not reasonable to assume that at least the implementation of the liturgical reforms (if not the entire effort including the Vatican II schema and document which kicked it off) had its share of serious problems? While the subsequent fall from grace of the men involved is not necessary to observe such things, it certainly reinforces the idea that the Consilium participants had their own agendas and saw the Mass as something more in need of a "renewal" than a sacred treasure to be preserved.
Throughout his career, many Catholics have openly challenged Weakland's interpretation of what liturgical reforms were and were not called for by Vatican II. He considered himself more than qualified to interpret the intentions of the Council and, given his experience in the development and implementation of those reforms, it would appear that this conception was vindicated by Rome very early on. If he's right, then Sacrosanctum Concilium is deserving of a second look.
One less wolf
As Weakland departs from his position of leadership and perhaps becomes an indentured servant of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, what is the legacy he leaves behind? According to Rod Dreher of National Review Online:
"Neither Weakland nor the money-grubbing Marcoux are victims. The Catholics of Milwaukee are. Their archbishop's arrogance and selfishness in the seedy Marcoux matter has cost them nearly half a million dollars. But in truth, the intangible cost is much higher. ... A local church riven with heresy and anti-Roman dissent, a bare, ruined cathedral, demoralized priests, and a scandalized flock: This, tragically, is the legacy of Rembert Weakland." 17
Although Weakland's fall may have been cause for temporary schadenfreude on the part of his opponents, how much of a cause for celebration really is this? I know several Catholics in Milwaukee who were counting down the days until his seventy-fifth birthday and were starting to get a little uneasy that he was still around in late May; but when he is replaced with a slightly less liberal bishop, how much will it matter? Milwaukee still has an offensive cathedral, a dying priesthood of individuals mostly selected and promoted by Weakland, experimental liturgies, poor Catholic education programs and a host of other problems afflicting almost every American diocese. Hopefully the local Catholics have not been so jaded by twenty-five years of having a horrible bishop that their standards have slipped and they will accept (or praise) a bad bishop, thankful that "at least he's not Weakland." What about the whole pack of bishops who supported Weakland in his open defiance of Vatican authority? They knew as well as you and me what was going on in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but not a single one stood up to offer any sort of "fraternal correction" against a man so clearly unqualified to care for thousands of souls.
No, the battle is not over. When facing a battalion of thousands, the falling of a single captain should not be cause for much pause. Although Rembert Weakland embodied many of the problems facing the Church, he was not himself the problem and his passing from a position of authority is not any sort of solution. A Church-wide crisis of Faith and morals will continue despite his retirement and will thrive if Catholics delude themselves into thinking that the end of the Weakland era represents a new Springtime for the Church.
Peter W. Miller
1 B. Ross, "Vow of Silence" ABC News (May 23, 2002)
4 R. Weakland, "Apology of Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B." www.archmil.org (May 31, 2002)
5 "1980 letter from Weakland to Marcoux" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (May, 2002)
9 G. Wills, "Scandal" The New York Review of Books (May 23, 2002)
10 The Catholic Herald, (May 26, 1988)
11 R. Weakland, "Apology of Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B." www.archmil.org (May 31, 2002)
12 "Why is Archbishop Weakland invited to Australia?" AD2000 (October 1992)
13 R. Weakland, America (June 7-14, 1997)
15 R. Weakland, "The Liturgy as Battlefield" Commonweal (January 11, 2002)
16 T. Heinen, Journal Sentinel, www.shrine.com
17 R. Dreher, "Weakland's Exit - A liberal bishop and his downfall" National Review Online (5/24/2002)