Archbishop Rembert Weakland, a Benedictine who served as archbishop of Milwaukee from 1977 to 2002, died overnight on Monday.
Weakland died after a long illness the night of Aug. 21–22 at Clement Manor in Greenfield, a Milwaukee suburb.
The archbishop was a progressive who had advocated for the priestly ordination of women.
His resignation as Milwaukee’s archbishop came after revelations that the archdiocese had paid $450,000 to silence Paul J. Marcoux, an adult male seminarian with whom he had a sexual relationship.
Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee commented Aug. 22 that “For a quarter of a century, Archbishop Weakland led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and his leadership embodied his Benedictine spirit. His pastoral letter, ‘Eucharist without Walls,’ evoked his love for the Eucharist and its call to service. During his time, he emphasized an openness to the implementation of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, including the role of lay men and women in the Church, the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, ecumenical dialogue, and addressing societal issues, especially economic justice. May he now rest in peace.”
A cloud hung over Weakland in 2002 when he retired as Milwaukee’s archbishop. He submitted his resignation to St. John Paul II in April when he turned 75, the age canon law requires bishops to submit their resignation to the pope.
The following month news broke of a 1998 archdiocesan settlement with a man named Paul Marcoux, who had accused the prelate of sexual abuse.
Weakland acknowledged he had had an improper relationship with Marcoux in 1979 but denied Marcoux’s claim that he had been sexually assaulted. The archdiocese made a $450,000 payment to Marcoux to settle his claim.
The payment was leaked to news media and the pope accepted the archbishop’s resignation the day after the story broke.
The funds came from the $1 million sale in 1997 of the headquarters of what had had been the DeRance Foundation. The building was donated to the archdiocese in 1992 when the foundation was then being dissolved. U.S. District Attorney Steven Biskupic investigated the payment and concluded there had been no illegal use of funds, because no restriction had been put on how the funds could be used.
On May 31, 2002, Weakland issued an apology to the archdiocese “for the scandal that has occurred because of my sinfulness.”
With money he earned from speaking and writing, and through funds raised by several of his friends, Weakland repaid the $450,000 to the archdiocese.
In his 2009 book, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop, he detailed aspects of his life from birth to retirement, and in recounting his life’s journey he described his struggle with his sexuality. He addressed the situation involving Marcoux, writing that in 1979, the man, in his early 30s, “asked me to share an evening meal. … That evening ended in sexual touches that he later would call ‘date rape.'”
The New York Times characterized his legacy:
An intellectual touchstone for progressive Catholic reformers, Archbishop Weakland, over the course of a distinguished if often controversial half-century career, was head of the worldwide order of Benedictine monks for a decade, presided in a rocky tenure over the Milwaukee archdiocese’s 700,000 Catholics, wrote many books and was an influential voice among the nation’s Catholic bishops.
But after an ecclesiastical life that lifted him from poverty in a Pennsylvania coal town to one step below the College of Cardinals — he was the recipient of more than 35 honorary degrees, international acclaim as a voice for change, and even talk that he might someday be the first American pope — Archbishop Weakland was disgraced in May 2002 as he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75…
…In the 1980s and ’90s, Archbishop Weakland had been a thorny problem for the Vatican. Addressing issues that troubled many of America’s more than 60 million Catholics, he championed new roles for women; questioned church bans on abortion, birth control and divorce; and challenged the Vatican’s insistence on celibacy for an all-male priesthood.
He also became a leading critic of America’s economic and social policies during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, drafting a landmark 120-page pastoral letter on the economy that called for reordering the nation’s priorities to cut military spending and attack poverty and inequality.
“We believe that the level of inequality in income and wealth in our society, and even more the inequality on the world scale today, must be judged morally unacceptable,” Archbishop Weakland told reporters in Washington in 1984 when he issued recommendations for sweeping changes to deal with hunger, homelessness and racial discrimination.