Murphy's Lore: A respinning of Archbishop Rembert Weakland

A few weeks ago there was a further reverberation from Archbishop Weakland's latest failed attempt to move away, an op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Todd Robert Murphy, offering A reappraisal of Archbishop Rembert Weakland. Murphy seems to say it was only after Archbishop Weakland's own sex scandal that,
"we learned that he followed established protocol of moving sexually abusive priests to other parishes once a psychological exam was completed."
He phrases that as if it's a defense of Weakland and other bishops, when it's at the heart of the case against them.
Just before Weakland's own scandal broke, our Archdiocese of Milwaukee was conducting "listening sessions" on the clergy sexual abuse scandal. I posted at the time,
"The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has posted the promised Questions and Answers for the May 16th listening sessions. ...

"It's clear from Questions 2 and 4 that the Archdiocese effectively delegates to therapists the decision whether or not a priest who sexually abuses a minor can continue to serve as a priest. ..."
You might think that a second priest committing a second offense after being cleared by a psychological evaluation would have been enough to bring in a "one strike" policy. Instead, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentiel reported, it took more: Angry Catholics pack sessions on sex abuse: Hundreds demand archdiocese take action concerning accused priests.

In his May 9, 2002 Milwaukee Catholic Herald column of Reminiscing, Weakland had a glimmer of insight.
"I regret to this day and will go to my grave with it on my conscience how I handled in 1979 the case of Fr. Bill Effinger."
One might wish he would have also expressed regret for the handling of the case of Fr. Dennis Pecore. In his response to a letter from a teacher about concerns that Fr. Pecore was sexually abusing children attending the parish school, Weakland included,
"any libelous material found in your letter will be scrutinized carefully by our lawyers."
The teachers ultimately resigned under pressure. Fr. Pecore went on sexually abusing kids from the school. (While Effinger is, Pecore is not on the List of Clergy Offenders at our Archdiocese's website because it takes the position that his offenses are in his religious order's jurisdiction.)

In Weakland's final years, there was a controversial renovation of the Cathedral. Murphy fantasizes that the controversy involved a few local "naysayers". In fact, objections to aspects of the project were found to have some merit in Rome. That lead Weakland to try to present it at a matter of principle, that is, who had the final authority, as seen in this ironically captioned Milwaukee Catholic Herald front page from July 19, 2001. Perhaps because he'a a member of the Cathedral parish, Murphy claims,
"In the years since its completion, I've yet to meet anyone who hasn't commented on its beauty."
H. Russell Zimmermann wrote on Our Greatest Churches in Milwaukee Magazine about his picks for Milwaukee's 25 most beautiful and historically significant churches. He sums up opinions widely-held and, other than within the Cathedral parish cocoon, well-known.
"In 2002, another major project was announced as 'a glorious renovation' of the interior. The modernist design was derided as 'a theater-in-the-round' and 'too Protestant' by detractors. To me, the shockingly mismatched interior is a mistake. The archdiocese's most beloved edifice deserves a meaningful restoration to its original, richly ornamented interior."
On the Marcoux settlement, here's Murphy's characterization.
"Weakland's personal issues came to light in May 2002, when he paid off a male lover on the advice of legal counsel."
At least Murphy concedes it was a payoff of a lover. Of course, that takes us back to the question why that would be a proper use of Church funds. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted in May 29, 2002 editorial on Explaining that $450,000,
"In a 1980 letter to Marcoux, when Marcoux was pressuring Weakland for money, the archbishop wrote: '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.'

"In the letter, Weakland did not differentiate between money he had earned and money given to the church by parishioners. 'All that church money' was a sacred trust. Then, he turned around in 1998 and knowingly and willingly betrayed that trust. It was not a mistake; it was not a stumble; it was not yielding to temptation. It was a very deliberate betrayal to ensure that his own reputation would not be smeared. And it came during a time when Weakland's archdiocese not only refused to pay real victims of pedophile priests, but even turned around and countersued one to recapture the church's legal fees."
Fourteen years of spin from our Archdiocese and the people who call themselves our former Archbishop's friends hasn't obscured that truth.

Murphy seems more a friend of the Archbishop as personification of a shared agenda rather than as a person when he brings up this incident.
"After celebrating a 'Respect Life' Mass, he was pilloried for commenting afterward: 'Such a difficult group to preach to,' 'Such hard faces,' 'Such surety,' 'No smiles,' 'No openness to any other point of view. They have no joy in being Catholic or part of a church.' He went on to say that many dislike the narrowness, lack of compassion and lack of civility of the pro-life movement."
Paul Wilkes recounted this same event in The Education of an Archbishop (1992), but in his version (page 49) Archbishop Civility goes on,
"you know what they really needed? A laxative. And a hug."
While Murphy might be right in saying that Weakland was not literally pro-choice, among other omissions from Murphy's account of Weakland's record also supplied by Wilkes (page 53) is that at one point in his tenure,
"The archdiocesan director of the Respect Life Office had resigned, saying that she could no longer 'perpetuate the myth' that the archdiocese was committed to anti-abortion efforts."
Also unmentioned by Murphy is that Weakland had tried to excuse the 'laxative and a hug' and several of his other more notorious remarks in his May 23, 2002 Catholic Herald column, titled Lapsus linguae and lapsus mentis corrected. They were all verbal and mental lapses, he claimed.

Murphy's pitch is that,
"Milwaukee has blundered by not turning to Weakland's sagacious counsel in many circumstances in which he could have provided guidance."
Archbishop Weakland explained why in his article 'Looking Forward: An archbishop examines himself & church structures' in the August 15, 2003 issue of Commonweal, available at Free Republic.
"... I recognize that a credibility problem will arise for many when I attempt to write, as I will here, about the need for reforming church structures."
Anyone who considers Archbishop Weakland a credible source of sagacious counsel is free to seek it.

Murphy claims Weakland is in exile here. On the contrary, all indications have been that Milwaukee is the place where he is most welcome, and where he will stay. He seems to have anticipated that. In a February 9, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel op-ed on What a cathedral means he said,
"twenty-some years ago, I decided that the crypt of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist would also be the burial chamber of the bishops. That is a part of the Catholic tradition. Archbishop Moses Elias Kiley, Archbishop William E. Cousins and Bishop Leo J. Brust are now all buried there. It is also where I hope my own body will eventually find a place of rest."
Perhaps the bronze plaque which includes Weakland, Fr. Carl Last, and Our Lady, if it must remain in the Cathedral, could then be relocated to his crypt. Upstairs, its place could be taken by a new bronze plaque based on this photograph of Weakland, Fr. Len VanVlaenderen, and Beth Glynn from the 2002 listening sessions.

1 comment:

  1. Murphy claims he 'hears [accolades] about the Cathedral renovation.' That says more about Murphy's circle than anything else. Perhaps they also opine that Phil Glass' music is 'elegant architecture' evincing 'nuance,' or that the State Fair's Midway is 'understated in its display of color and light.' They've always been around: they're called Nihilists.


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