The Fall and Grace of Archbishop Rembert Weakland

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 21, 2009 | Categories: Bishops, History, Lesbians & Gays, Scandals

“He was one of the most gifted leaders in the post-Vatican II church in America,” said Rev. Jim Martin, a Jesuit priest and associate editor of America, a Catholic magazine, “and certainly beloved by the left, and sadly that gave his critics more ammunition.”

Archbishop Weakland was among those who publicly questioned the need for a male-only celibate priesthood. He also led American bishops in a two-year process of writing a pastoral letter on economic justice, holding hearings on the subject across the county.

He stepped down as Archbishop of Milwaukee in May 2002…  one day after a former lover disclosed on the  ABC network television  show, “Good Morning America,” he had been paid  $450,000 to keep quiet about an affair with Weakland in 1980.

But now, in interviews and in a memoir, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, Archbishop Emeritus Rembert Weakland is speaking out about how internal church politics affected his response to the fallout from his affair and why Catholic teaching on homosexuality is wrong. weakland-book

“If we say our God is an all-loving god,” he said, “how do you explain that at any given time probably 400 million living on the planet at one time would be gay? Are the religions of the world, as does Catholicism, saying to those hundreds of millions of people, you have to pass your whole life without any physical, genital expression of that love?”

He said he had been aware of his homosexual orientation since he was a teenager and suppressed it until he become archbishop, when he had relationships with several men because of “loneliness that became very strong.” weakland_rembert_g_1980_mid

Archbishop Weakland, 82, said he was probably the first bishop to come out of the closet voluntarily. He said he was doing so not to excuse his actions but to give an honest account of why it happened and to raise questions that the church’s teaching that homosexuality is “objectively disordered.”

“Those are bad words because they are so pejorative,” he said.

The archbishop said it was partly because of his strained relations with Pope John Paul II he did not tell Vatican officials in 1997 when he was threatened by a lawsuit by Paul J. Marcoux, the man with whom he had a relationship nearly 20 years before and who had appeared on “Good Morning America.”

Archbishop Weakland said he probably should have gone to Rome and explained he had had a relationship with Mr. Marcoux, that he had ended it by writing a lengthy and  emotional letter that Mr. Marcoux still had and that the archbishop’s lawyers regarded Mr. Marcoux’s threats as blackmail.

But, the archbishop said, a highly placed friend in Rome advised him that church officials preferred that such things be hushed up, which is “the Roman way.”

“I suppose, also, being frank, I wouldn’t have wanted to be labeled in Rome at that point as gay,” Archbishop Weakland said. “Rome is a little village.”

In its report “Good Morning America” quoted from the 11-page handwritten letter dated August 25, 1980. The letter describes a planned vacation on Nantucket, a trip to Boston, and conflict over Marcoux’s involvement with a man named Don.

“I should not put down on paper what I would not want the whole world to read. But here goes anyway,” the letter said.

“I felt like the world’s worst hypocrite. So I gradually came back to the importance of celibacy in my life.” Weakland describes his decision to turn away from Marcoux and back to celibacy as “the greatest renunciations” in his life as a priest.

The letter also makes clear that even then, Marcoux was pressuring Weakland for money. “Paul, I really have given you all I personally possess.   The $14,000 is my personal limit…Your anger was evident that I couldn’t play the great patron…”

He signed the letter, “I love you.” paul-marcoux

Seventeen years later, Marcoux resurfaced  threatening to file a lawsuit. The archdiocese was prepared to counter with an extortion charge, but according to the signed settlement agreement, eventually Marcoux walked away with $450,000. Marcoux’s sister told reporters Marcoux had burned through all  the money by 2002 – the time of the “Good Morning America” program.

Paul Marcoux told ABC News reporter Brian Ross  he was just trying to get an apology. “That’s not blackmail?” Ross asked. “What do you call it?” Ross asked. “A settlement for a sexual assault case, and what I wanted to do was to have my day in court,” Marcoux said. And though the agreement bars Marcoux fom discussing it, he told Ross he couldn’t keep his silence any longer. “I’ve been involved in the cover-up. I accepted money to be silent about it, not to speak out against what was going on,” he said.

Marcoux linked his situation to the clerical sex abuse scandals: “He was sitting next to me and then started to try to kiss me and continued to force himself on me and pulled down my trousers, attempted to fondle me. Think of it in terms of date rape.”   Marcoux  was 32 at the time of the affair. A  graduate student in theology at Marquette University, he met Archbishop Weakland at a reception.

His “date rape”  example could apply to what most teenage girls get used to fending off with regularity.

Shortly after the “Good Morning America” program aired, Archbishop Weakland said he phoned the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, DC–Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo–who, he said, told him, “Of course you are going to deny it.”

Archbishop Weakland said he told the Nuncio that while he could deny emphatically it was date rape, “I can’t deny that something happened between us.”

The book comes out on May 29th.

I welcome the return of Archbishop Weakland.   We have missed him.

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12 Responses to “The Fall and Grace of Archbishop Rembert Weakland”

  1. Thom Says:

    Karen, excellent work.

    I wonder if Abp. Weakland had been one of the dearly-beloved conservative Bishops if his character would be so attacked as it is now.

  2. Patrick Says:

    This is a story about a man who lied to many around him, who broke his vows, who covered-up his scandal, who denied the accusations, who abused his authority as a Church leader, who robbed the parishioners in the middle of the night, and who threw many stones while at the same time living in a glass house. And now to top it off, is throwing accusations around at others. Many people in a less protected environment would be sitting in prison now. Poor victim! Why not just pay back the money that you took, and stay apologetic for the harm that you have caused.

  3. Mark Says:

    Archbishop Weakland is one of the great pilgrims of the Catholic Church. He has moved the notion of confessional onward toward a place where honesty may prevail. Had the Church been as open to allowing the public know that many priests and bishops may or may not be homosexual and whatever their sexual orientation, it is all right. Archbishop Weakland is among the most compassionate forward looking prelates. His book is outstanding in ints encounter with an old world of Catholic mentality facing new generations of deep faith. The black mail that the Archbishop fell prey to is a great tragedy. His plea to create an ambiance of sexual acknowledgement and openness in Catholic seminaries is essential for the sanity of both the priesthood and those that they serve.

  4. Barry Blackburn Says:

    Dear Nihil Obstat,
    Archbishop Weakland is a hero for his courage to speak the truth about his own experience and for the truth in his acceptance of his gay sexual orientation and his call for the Church to begin to address this important dialogue with the lgbt community. I look forward to reading his book which is too long overdue in our struggle to remain faithful to our Faith, our Church, and our lgbt sexuality. The Archbishop and every lgbt person have a lot to offer to the Church even as she remains obdurate to begin this important dialogue with her lgbt sons and daughters. Weakland’s cry is a Gospel call!

  5. Will duBron Says:

    The courage and humility of His Grace, the Archbishop Weakland, is a Christian witness which we all would do well to try to emulate.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Archbishop Weakland is truly a victim, and the Church that he served so faithfully for so many years has let him down. What a pity that that the “flock” in the US are so led astray by the all-powerful “shepherds” in the Curia (much less the head shepherd, sitting on the throne of Peter). Vatican I will eventually give way to Vatican II, I firmly believe. In the mean time we will continue to awaite the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the dawning of new Holy Father in the footsteps of John XXIII.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    sad, what has our church leadership become, leaders living a lie.

  8. Frank Pawlak Says:

    Rembert Weakland is a pompous ass who as Patrick has commented: broke his vows. lied to those around him, mislead his flock, and used his parishioners money to pay off his partner in sin. Now it comes out that in the Cathedral here in Milwaukee he has placed a statue of himself beneath that of the Blessed Mother no less. Arrogance of the highest order. Asking for forgiveness: like hell he is!!! just another lie to garner attention.

  9. J. Katz, OFM Says:

    Archbishop Weakland, is not the first bishop that had done something he regreted. Nor is he the first bishop that is a gay man. The Roman Catholic Church is full of homosexual priest and bishop. Not to mention many Popes that orientation was gay. People need to respect that when someone is open and honest about a very painful part of their life, as Jesus would say, “those who have not sin cast the first stone.” Little do the laity know how the the Roman Catholic Church functions. You might be very surprised at what the present and recent popes have had their “servants” do to cover up their injustice toward people. Our church is a growing church. A church that need as much healing that one could possible imagine. Archbishop Weakland, has taken account for his action. What about Pope Benedict, he is far from perfect. He need to give a Mae Culpa.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Weakland is repulsive! Justice was served.

    Patrick Two

  11. Bud Says:

    Just like the “Queen” elected a Bishop in the Episcopal Church after divorsing his wife (and children)and arrogantly causing the split of the church, he should have resigned. I somehow doubt his general attitude about different facets of his faith to justify his staying “in power”

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