Pilgrim’s Regress

The disgraceful autobiography of Rembert Weakland

It sounds like an over-the-top Tom Wolfe novel: a successor to the apostles conducts an affair with a male graduate student, is accused of “date rape” and emotional harm by said student, raids the collection basket of the faithful to hush the student up, then, as the bishop settles into a cushy retirement, he pens a “coming out” memoir in praise of homosexual behavior, all the while retaining the canonical rights and privileges of a retired archbishop and receiving pats on the back from fellow clergy.

Alas, this is no racy and risible fiction; it is the real story of Archbishop Rembert Weakland. The retired archbishop of Milwaukee released in June his autobiography, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop. In it he admits to several affairs with men, crowns himself the first voluntarily “out” bishop, and argues that the Church should endorse the “physical, genital expression” of homosexuality, as he put it to the New York Times in May.

“If we say our God is an all-loving god,” he said to the Times, “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?”

Weakland gave this interview to the Times, by the way, from the “Archbishop Weakland Center, which houses the archdiocesan cathedral offices in downtown Milwaukee.” This small snapshot of episcopal decadence—an openly “gay” bishop spouting heresy while sitting in a diocesan office still named in his honor—would be amusing if it weren’t so sad and scandalous.

If Church officials worried about the corruption and perdition of souls as much as they fret about “tolerance” and “collegiality,” they would end this disgusting farce and suspend Weakland’s faculties. Instead, they sit on their hands as Weakland, outfitted in his priestly collar, grants interviews to news outlets about the glories of mortal sin.

The chutzpah of Weakland is breathtaking. But then, this is a Benedictine monk (he once was head abbot of the order, a footnote that is not likely to be lost on future Edward Gibbons) who could with a straight face spearhead a pastoral letter accusing Ronald Reagan of greed and fiscal irresponsibility while dipping himself into the faithful’s pockets for a $450,000 “loan” to pay off his disgruntled paramour, Paul Marcoux.

In other eras, a disgraced Benedictine monk would disappear into obscure days of prayer and penitential labor; these days he publishes a tribute to homosexuality and anxiously awaits a booking to appear on Charlie Rose and Oprah.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when Weakland was riding high in his episcopal saddle, he regarded himself as a sort of modern-day Cardinal Richelieu, a viciously savvy player of progressive Church politics. He knew the rules and how to bend them. But now he presents himself as an innocent waif and victim.

He had no idea that those abusive priests he shuffled from parish to parish were committing a “crime” when they raped children. Also, he “naively” assumed these children would “grow out of” and “forget” the molestation.

Weakland also has the gall to blame Pope John Paul II’s Vatican in part for his payout to the grad student. You see, if only Weakland could have been open about his homosexuality (and the Vatican hadn’t been so secretive), the payout wouldn’t have been necessary, he suggested to the Times:

Archbishop Weakland said he probably should have gone to Rome and explained that he had had a relationship with Mr. Marcoux, that he had ended it by writing an 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.”

The Roman way? Try the Weakland way. Notice he doesn’t mention the most obvious consequence of coming clean to Rome: he would have had to resign.

Weakland’s dishonesty is sickening. Here is a bishop who violated his vows grossly, then plundered the hardearned dollars of Catholic families to conceal his fraud, all so that he could avoid resignation and preserve his power, which he then used to liberalize and corrupt the Church in America for over a generation.

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