Retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland dies at age 95
Until he resigned after a sex and financial scandal, retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland was a prominent Catholic liberal who advocated for social justice and more power for women in the church. He has since passed away. He was 95.
Weakland, a multilingual pianist with classical training, passed away overnight at his residence at Greenfield’s Clement Manor after a protracted illness, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee announced on Monday.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki stated in a statement that Archbishop Weakland “served the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for a quarter of a century and his leadership represented his Benedictine spirit.”
The archbishop resigned after a former Marquette University theology student revealed he had received $450,000 in 1997 to settle a sexual assault claim against Weakland two decades earlier. The archbishop had previously spoken out about his challenges with being gay. Even though Weakland said the arrangement was mutually agreeable, the archdiocese provided the funds.
The settlement was made public as the church dealt with a widespread controversy that broke out when the Boston Globe published many articles about priests abusing children. Victims in Milwaukee and other locations started to come forward and make their own claims.
Weakland admitted in his 2009 memoir that he was mistaken to assume that the general public would comprehend how his settlement with the former theology student Paul Marcoux differed from the amounts given to victims of child sexual assault.
He claimed that “most papers merely dumped it into the hopper with the rest, making no distinctions.”
In accordance with church policy, Weakland presented his resignation on the day of his 75th birthday. After Marcoux accused the archbishop of date rape on national television, Pope John Paul II accepted it.
Weakland admitted to trying to put his resentment behind him to The Associated Press in 2009.
He said, “I didn’t let myself become a victim and I didn’t let myself become angry.” “I want to own up to my mistakes, but I also want to move on.”
Weakland was given the name George Samuel in honor of both his maternal and paternal grandfathers when he was born at a Patton, Pennsylvania hotel run by his father and grandfather in 1927. Nearly twenty years later, when he accepted vows as a Benedictine monk, he was given the name Rembert.
The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1929, right before the commencement of the Great Depression. The resultant financial disaster led to the father of Weakland’s family turning to alcohol and hopelessness. After his kid turned five, Basil Weakland passed away from pneumonia the next day.
Weakland admitted to The Associated Press in 1984 that being on welfare as a child after his father’s passing had a significant impact on his life.
In his capacity as archbishop, he contributed to a 112-page pastoral statement from the country’s bishops that criticized excessive unemployment, homelessness, and hunger as well as the vast wealth differences between the rich and the poor as being morally wrong. The letter, which was published only days after former President Ronald Reagan was re-elected, stood in stark contrast to the laissez-faire economic policies of the Republican-led government.
Weakland advocated for expanding women’s roles in the church and making it more inclusive of them. He established a work team that made recommendations on the ordination and preaching rights of women.
He was a pianist who studied at The Juilliard School and received his doctorate in musicology from Columbia University outside of the church. Weakland, who was chosen to lead the Benedictine monks at age 40, was a multilingual man who spoke six languages, including English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Latin.
However, as the church’s leadership shifted toward conservatism under Pope John Paul II, his popularity started to fade. The archbishop is at odds with other church leaders because of his public remarks on abortion, married priests, and the use of condoms to stop the spread of HIV.
Prior to Weakland’s appointment, the Milwaukee archdiocese was dealing with a child sexual abuse crisis. He kept up the practice of moving misbehaving priests to new churches and seeking treatment for them, but finally he began to believe that pedophilia was an incurable illness.
He officially apologized for moving Rev. William Effinger to a Sheboygan parish in 1992 and for doing so after reports of abuse surfaced there in 1979. After being found guilty of abusing children, Effinger passed away in jail.
Though many believed the archdiocese continued to foster a hostile environment toward them under his leadership, Weakland nevertheless appeared to place the responsibility for certain victims.
“Not all teenage victims are always that ‘innocent.’ In a 1988 diocese newspaper article, the archbishop noted that some people “may be sexually quite active, aggressive, and frequently highly streetwise.”
Weakland then expressed regret for his remarks on the victims as the story centered mostly on his appeal for the expulsion of abusive priests from the church. In his memoir, he discussed how he had previously been unable to comprehend the effects of child sexual assault.
“If I have any sadness, it is that we have made too little progress in understanding and helping victims regain a full life,” he added. “Too many seem to be left in anger.”