Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Clerical Pilgrims In A Pilgrim Church

Proceeds from Weakland memoir to benefit charity
By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel Posted: May. 11, 2009

Retired Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland said Monday that he plans to donate the proceeds from sales of his forthcoming memoir to the Catholic Community Foundation, a local organization that funds programs in southeastern Wisconsin.

The memoir, "A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church," is due out in June. In it, the retired archbishop writes openly about his homosexuality and his failure to oversee pedophile priests, according to Publisher's Weekly, which called it "a moving personal confession."

"I was very careful and concerned that the book not become a Jerry Springer, to satisfy people's prurient curiosity or anything of this sort," Weakland told The Associated Press. "At the same time, I tried to be as honest as I can."

Weakland resigned abruptly in 2002 after it was revealed that he had paid $450,000 in archdiocesan funds to a former Marquette University theology student who accused him of date rape in 1979. In 1998, the man, Paul Marcoux, attempted to extort $1 million from Weakland in exchange for a love note the archbishop had written years earlier, according to court records.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said Monday that it is unlikely to seek restitution of the funds paid out by Weakland from the book's profits because they were repaid previously by the retired archbishop and a group of supporters. (Why not just come out and say we have no need to seek restitution because it's already been paid back?)

Weakland, 82, declined to discuss the book with the Journal Sentinel, which has extensively covered his personal scandal and his alleged role in covering up sex abuse by other priests, now the subject of civil lawsuits.

But he told The Associated Press that he wrote about his sexual orientation because he wanted to be candid about "how this came to life in my own self, how I suppressed it, how it resurrected again."

The archbishop said he considered waiting to publish the book posthumously, but decided against it.

"What I felt was that people who loved me as bishop here, when they read the book will continue to love me. The people who found it difficult, I hope will be helped a little bit by the book," he told the AP.

Weakland is a key witness in a series of civil fraud cases brought against the Milwaukee Archdiocese by victims of alleged clergy sex abuse. In a deposition released in November, he admitted that he transferred priests with a history of sexual misconduct back into churches without alerting parishioners and did not report alleged abuses to police.

He dismissed that testimony while speaking with the AP, saying that "any deposition is just a part of a whole picture and that picture has not been painted yet. And anybody can take out of that any sentence they want.

"I try to deal with this, I hope in an honest way, admitting my weaknesses in not being able to see this earlier, but at the same time doing what I could (to) confront it," the AP quoted him as saying.

Weakland said he wrote in the memoir that he was unprepared for "how lonely it is" to be a bishop and how difficult it can be to get the "feedback and support you need," the AP reported.
Weakland told the AP that Christians needed to speak more openly about gays in the priesthood without the "hysteria" that often characterizes the debate.

Weakland, a Benedictine monk known during his tenure in Milwaukee as an outspoken liberal in the American Catholic Church, plans to move to St. Mary's Abbey in Morristown, N.J., this summer.


I think before I write any commentary on this story, I will reprint a Salon article which deals with Archbishop Weakland's 'abuse' victim. I think it's important to refresh in people's minds this aspect of the Archbishop's story.

The witch hunt against Archbishop Weakland
By Margaret Spillane and Bruce Shapiro, May 25, 2002

Anyone tuning in to ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday began the day with a sickening tale: What host Charles Gibson called "serious new allegations of sexual misconduct in the Catholic church." Unlike the Boston Globe's months of investigative reporting involving Cardinal Bernard Law, the misconduct reported by the network's correspondent Brian Ross did not involve pedophilia. Instead, Ross reported that one of the country's most respected and reform-minded Catholic leaders, Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, stood accused of attacking a male graduate student nearly a quarter-century ago, and paying $450,000 in hush money in 1998.

ABC reported that Paul Marcoux, now 54 years old, charged that around 1980, "he was sexually assaulted by the archbishop when he went to him seeking advice on entering the priesthood." Marcoux himself was even more explicit: "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." The story was incendiary. Within hours, Archbishop Weakland -- the leading voice within the American Catholic hierarchy for democratization, acceptance of gays and other social-justice reforms -- had accelerated his planned retirement. It seemed the logical next chapter in a season of church scandal.

But who was really the victim this time? A close look at the Weakland case suggests a story far different from ABC's simple "date rape" report -- and an accuser with far less credibility than suggested on "Good Morning America" and in subsequent national media reports. Indeed, the real story behind Weakland's resignation suggests that the hard work of documenting the church's coverup of clerical pedophilia risks being derailed by personal vendettas and gay-bashing.

The story really begins with what ABC's viewers -- and later readers of the New York Times, which put Paul Marcoux's charges on the front page -- were never told. They did not hear, for instance, that questions have arisen about accuser Marcoux's credibility. One small but telling example: Marcoux recently told Milwaukee reporters that he did "undergraduate work" at Boston College, the prestigious Jesuit institution. But a call to the B.C. registrar's office reveals that Marcoux's "undergraduate work" consisted of a single summer class taken in 1975.

Reporters for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found similar problems with Marcoux's credibility. "Marcoux sometimes exaggerates," the paper reported in Friday's editions. It quoted an e-mail message from him describing his "friendship" with a California academic who has written about victims of abuse. But the professor said Marcoux "was never anything more than a vague acquaintance." So unreliable was Marcoux -- reneging on agreements to document his charges -- that the Journal Sentinel, which had been working on the story for weeks, had killed the story until Marcoux appeared on ABC.

ABC's viewers did not learn, either, that whatever happened between Weakland and Marcoux, the two enjoyed a lengthy and intimate relationship. A long and agonized 1980 letter by Weakland to Marcoux describes a planned vacation on Nantucket, a trip to Boston, and conflict over Marcoux's involvement with another man named Don. In the letter -- excerpted by the New York Times but most revealing and moving if read in full on the Journal Sentinel or Times Web sites -- Weakland describes his decision to turn away from Marcoux and back to celibacy as "the greatest renunciations" in his life as a priest. In the letter, the archbishop cautions Marcoux against pursuing a plan to combine psychodrama therapy and religious counseling. The distress evident in Weakland's efforts to be fair and tolerant toward Marcoux's ideas -- even giving the younger man his entire personal savings of $14,000 -- reflects his apprehension about finding himself bankrolling a pop-therapy scheme dressed in clerical robes. (This would not be a good mix at all. Although now that I think about it, it's kind of what ex gay groups like Courage tend to employ.)

ABC viewers also never learned that Marcoux spent decades in perpetual financial crisis: He was an inveterate houseguest of the sort that makes Kato Kaelin look like a standard-bearer for the Protestant work ethic. Archbishop Weakland's anguished letter in 1980 worries explicitly and deeply about Marcoux's repeated demands for money and his inability to manage his own finances: "Your anger was evident that I couldn't play the great patron ... In all truth I do not see how you could possibly earn the kind of money you foresee, enough to live in the style you are accustomed to ... I am baffled by your handling of money."

This is no one-time lovers' quarrel. The Journal Sentinel reported that 22 years later the same problems were evident: Marcoux had stayed with a succession of friends for years, and his own sister told the paper that in four years' time he had burned through the entire out-of-court settlement from Weakland. What emerges is not the tale of a victim but the story of a sponge.

Weakland, who had already submitted to a planned mandatory retirement, decided to step aside and apologize -- not for his relationship with Marcoux, but for eventually settling his personal affairs at the expense of the archdiocese. Weakland says he will not breach the settlement's confidentiality agreement. So whatever happened in private between Weakland and Marcoux, the public outcome is clear. The country and the Catholic Church have lost a consistently dignified and passionate activist for women's equality within the church and for economic equality in the nation. What Marcoux may have gained is a matter of speculation. But the public reality is that Archbishop Weakland was blackmailed, and ultimately punished, for being gay.

What's clear is that the meticulous reporting of sexual abuse by the Boston Globe -- swinging a wrecking ball through a wall of silence behind which the cries of the innocent were smothered lest they interfere with business as usual -- is in danger of giving way to sweeping persecution of gay priests. The Marcoux affair, and the slipshod reporting of his accusations by ABC, suggest it's open season. (This turned out to be absolutely prophetic.)


Archbishop Weakland was essentially the gay version of Fr. Kutie, and unlike some other bishops I could name, say Fabian Bruskewitz, Weakland has at least given a sworn deposition for trial lawyers in the diocese of Milwaukee, in which he admitted he failed in his pastoral duties when it came to abusive priests. Whatever else one might say about Rembert Weakland, he does take his lumps without equivocating.

In many respects the Roman Catholic Church practices it's own version of 'don't ask don't tell' when it comes to the priesthood. I thought it was pretty disingenuous to go after gays in the seminary, but fail to address the gay issue in the ordained priesthood. The reason for this is pretty obvious, they can't. They would lose about half of their clergy and an equally significant part of the bishopric.

Fr. Geoff Farrow, the California gay priest who came out against prop 8, (and paid the price for it) corroborates this point on his blog today:

"If every priest and bishop in America who is gay were to stand in the pulpit this Sunday and state that in so many words to their congregations, it would be IMPOSSIBLE for Rome to continue to attempt to oppress LGBT people.

It would also force the hierarchy to take seriously its responsibility to offer practical spiritual guidance to its lesbian and gay members. It would mark the beginning of the end for hate crimes that victimize both LGBT people and their loved ones.

Will this happen anytime soon? It is happening, one priest, and one archbishop at a time and it scares the hell out of Rome."

The fact is, if this actually happened, it wouldn't just be the numbers, it would also be the names of those gay clergy. I imagine the 'outing' of Archbishop Weakland caused a great deal of angst in some of his fellow bishops. Probably as much as the abuse crisis itself.

A lot of reasons have been put forth for the number of gays in the clergy. I wish someone would do a study on just why gay men are attracted to the priesthood. Most of the gay priests I've known did not enter the priesthood as some kind of perfect closet or for the oft cited reasons of gaining access to the mythical "lavender mafia". They entered the priesthood because they felt called to service. A number of them saw in the person of Jesus a man who exhibited the same kinds of compassionate qualities they saw in themselves. Archbishop Weakland's letter to Paul Marcoux eloquently expresses this compassion.

In this sexually hyped up competitive society, Jesus would not pass muster as a gung ho male. That's why I find it interesting that the American Church is actively promoting and seeking red blooded American gung ho males. Ultimately this is all about keeping the feminine out of Roman Catholicism, and one should never forget, that it's about keeping the male determined mostly enculturated feminine out of the church. Or as I wrote yesterday, it's about maintaining a rather Old Covenant view of masculinity as the Sacramental sign of the more feminine New Covenant. Males ranting and raving is not terribly convincing when one is attempting to portray the forgiving, compassionate, and loving Christ.

Fr. Kutie is a great physical example of this greatly desired type of priest, but he at heart, is a Jesus priest. He is doing his best to be honest and compassionate towards his romantic interest and his Church. He may come to the same conclusion that Archbishop Weakland did and "make the greatest renunciation" of his life. It's kind of a paradox I guess, that in the name of the God of love, you must renounce love. That's the issue people miss when it comes to celibacy and/or gays, it's not about renouncing sex, it's the anguish of renouncing love.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland meant a great deal to the progressive social justice wing of the Church. Very much in the same way Fr. Kutie has meant a great deal to the under served Hispanic population. There are parallels in their two stories. They are and were great gifts to the ordained clergy and the Church as a whole. In the final analysis they are both pilgrims in a pilgrim church. To forget that about our clergy, whether gay or straight, is a grave error. It may be time we let priests be fully human so they can more easily grow into what it means to be Christ like.

One last observation. In view of the Church's decision to fight recently passed gay marriage laws, I found another of Fr. Geoff Farrow's comments to be insightful. He said for a healthy gay priest to function in today's climate was sort of like being a Jew working for the Gestapo. One can take that as hyperbole, or one can take it as a true statement of the kind of cognitive dissonance gay priests now experience in the Church. On the other hand, Fr. Kutie probably feels the Catholic Gestapo are every where.

1 comment:

  1. "To forget that about our clergy, whether gay or straight, is a grave error. It may be time we let priests be fully human so they can more easily grow into what it means to be Christ like."

    I don't think I can add anything more to your wise observations Colleen.

    The renunciation of love is truly not the answer especially if the God who one serves is a God of love. I remember reading of Thomas Merton's love affair and he also made that choice to renounce love. It would have meant that the Church law force him to deny his identity as a monk & priest if he did not renounce the love, rather than such love being a part of God's love being incorporated in his identity as a priest. The Church forces these men into a one dimensional lifestyle that restricts them from developing as people and children of God. The Church's stance in forcing celibacy upon all of the clergy is something that I will never accept or be able to condone. Such a policy seems to only force such men into unloving choices and incapable of fully experiencing being human and relating to others.