oday, Milwaukee Catholics are without an archbishop.
Many orthodox Catholics have wondered for weeks why the sex-abuse scandal has hit America's more conservative bishops Law of Boston and Egan of New York hardest. Not any longer: Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, the most liberal bishop in America, has been disgraced by the revelation that he paid $450,000 in hush money to buy the silence of an apparent former male lover.
The Vatican accepted Weakland's resignation Friday morning. He had offered it in April, upon reaching his 75th birthday, as canon law mandates. Weakland recently told his advisers, however, that Rome intended to delay action on these canonically required resignations during the scandal. However, the Vatican's swift action on the Weakland case indicates that Rome judged maintaining him in office was hopeless.
The alleged ex-lover, Paul Macoux, is calling his decades-old encounter with Weakland "sexual abuse," but from what we know now, that's not the case. Macoux, 54, was at least in his late 20s when he began a relationship with Weakland, and from an 11-page, handwritten 1980 "Dear Paul" letter Weakland wrote to Macoux, it appears that the archbishop and his paramour had a consensual relationship, one that Weakland ended when he decided to begin honoring his vow of celibacy.
The letter reveals Weakland, archbishop of Milwaukee since 1977, to have been in "deep love" with Marcoux, who comes off as a manipulative grifter who looked to the archbishop, 21 years his senior, as a sugar daddy. Responding to Marcoux's apparent request for more money to fund a personal project, Weakland tells him that the $14,000 he had already given Marcoux "is really my personal limit."
"I feel you are putting me in an impossible situation here," the archbishop wrote. "I consider all that Church money as a sacred trust; it represents the offerings of the 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."
Yet 18 years later, facing the threat of a civil suit by Marcoux, Weakland directed his archdiocese to fork over $450,000 to buy Marcoux's silence. On Thursday, Milwaukee County Attorney Michael McCann told reporters Weakland had confessed to him that he had had a "troubling" relationship with an adult male, and was afraid he was going to be extorted because of it. McCann now says he will consider appointing a special prosecutor to find out where the hush money came from.
Marcoux, who exploited his relationship with Weakland to rob the Catholic people of Milwaukee of nearly half a million dollars, doesn't deserve pity. Neither does the archbishop, who was willing to throw Marcoux nearly half a million dollars of money that didn't belong to him all in an effort to maintain his reputation.
What would $450,000 have bought? How about raises for underpaid Catholic-school teachers in Milwaukee? Or coats for the homeless to keep them warm in the icy Wisconsin winter? Or hot meals for the hungry at soup kitchens, or medical treatment for the poor, or scholarships for underprivileged kids, or retirement care for priests and nuns who served the Catholic people of that archdiocese faithfully and without complaint? Instead, the Archbishop of Milwaukee invested it in a cover-up.
It is especially galling when you consider the case of Fr. William Effinger, who died in prison several years ago, where he was sent for sexually assaulting a child. Weakland knew Effinger was a serial pederast, yet reassigned him from parish to parish. After Effinger went to jail in 1993, the boy he molested sued the archdiocese, but the suit was thrown out because the statute of limitations had expired. Weakland directed his lawyers to countersue the boy's family, and the archdiocese thereby recovered $4,000 in court costs from the victim.
(Then again, Weakland never has had much sympathy for sex-abuse victims. In 1988, in remarks that brought him rebuke from a Milwaukee law-enforcement official, the gadfly archbishop said, "Not all adolescent victims are so innocent. Some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise.")
Many orthodox American Catholics have long considered it a scandal that Rome allowed a man like Weakland to remain as Milwaukee's archbishop, considering his bold and uncompromising record of dissent from Catholic teaching. Weakland wears his dissent as a badge of honor.
"Members of the Roman Curia often referred to me as a 'maverick,'" the archbishop wrote in his archdiocesan newspaper column last May.
"The best compliment I received, then, came from a religious superior in Rome who said: 'Rome does not know what to do with Weakland. He is a free man.' I feel I have been able to maintain my own dignity and identity through it all."
Here's a tiny portion of what the Free Man of Milwaukee has meant for the Church in his city: He directed Catholic schools there to teach kids how to use condoms as part of AIDS education, and approved a graphic sex-education program for parochial-school kids that taught "there is no right and wrong" on the issues of abortion, contraception and premarital sex. He has advocated for gay rights and women's ordination, bitterly criticized Pope John Paul II, denounced pro-lifers as "fundamentalist," and declared that one could be both pro-choice and a Catholic in good standing.
In the last few months, Weakland defied an order from the Vatican to halt his $4.5 million dollar extremely modernistic renovation of Milwaukee's historic cathedral, which was left ravaged by the procedure. One puzzled Catholic described the new stripped-down space as akin to "a fancy Baptist church with a very large communion table."
As despised as he was by orthodox Catholics, Weakland was a darling of the Catholic Left. Two influential old friends in the liberal Catholic press, Peggy Steinfels and Fr. Thomas Reese, editors, respectively, of Commonweal and the Jesuit journal America, rushed to his defense when the news broke Thursday morning, describing Weakland as a victim of a "sexual witch hunt." (Oddly, the Catholic League's William Donohue, never a fan of Catholic dissenters, issued a similar statement, calling Weakland a victim of "sexual McCarthyism," a Clintonite phrase.)
It is possible that Steinfels, Reese, and Donohue didn't have the full story of the $450,000 payoff or the "Dear Paul" letter when they issued their statements. They must realize now that there is simply no defending Weakland in this matter. His is a perfect example of what happens when a bishop puts his sexual gratification and own reputation over holiness, humility and the good of the Church. And this debacle is yet another instance of the susceptibility sexually active bishops have to blackmail.
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. Consider these words from a Wisconsin priest, reported in Friday's New York Times:
That, from a priest.
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.