Seven years ago, when Bishop Rembert Weakland was publicly of sexual assault by Paul Marcoux, people were shocked (this article discusses the accusation, the evidence, and Weakland’s career).
Back then, I tried to make the case I usually make: that sex abuse usually comes in tandem with heterodoxy, that if the hierarchy were better about making sure priests and bishops taught correct doctrine, we’d have less of a scandal about sex abuse. The Washington Times seemed to get it right, but, otherwise, most media outlets were expressing shock and horror about the situation. Even Rush Limbaugh expressed distress over the accusations against Weakland, and all these were acting with the underlying assumption that “Catholic bishop = saint.”
I tried calling the Rush Limbaugh program on “Open Line” Friday to ask why anyone would be shocked that the most liberal bishop in the United States was gay, but the screener said something nasty, and hung up on me.
That was the reponse I got from several places: that I was wrong for seeing divine Justice in this revelation, for being glad that God was using the Scandal to purge the Church of a lot of bad clerics.
Things certainly have changed in seven years.
Now, when, after trying to cover up the allegations and resigning, Rembert Weakland has officially “come out of the closet,” people are saying, “ho-hum. We knew that already.”
Let’s look at some of Weakland’s record as bishop. First, he was one of the appointees of Archbishop Jean Jadot, the Papal Delegate to the US from 1973 to 1980. From What Does the Prayer Really Say?, quoting Fr. Richard McBrien (Fr. Z’s commentary is in red):
Most of Jadot’s appointments were unusually good, some less so. A limited sample (and I stress the adjective “limited”) of those on the first list include: [Get this list…] Howard Hubbard (Albany), Francis Hurley (Anchorage), William Borders (Baltimore), Patrick Flores (El Paso and then San Antonio), Joseph Imesh (Joliet), Michael Kenny (Juneau, Alaska), John J. Sullivan (Kansas City, Missouri), Rembert Weakland (Milwaukee), Peter Gerety (Newark), Raymond Lucker (New Ulm, Minnesota), John Cummins (Oakland), Walter Sullivan (Richmond), Matthew Clark (Rochester), Francis Quinn (Sacramento), Kenneth Untener (Saginaw, Michigan), John May (St. Louis), John Roach (St. Paul and Minneapolis), John Quinn (San Francisco), Raymond Hunthausen (Seattle), Frank Harrison (Syracuse), and William Skylstad (Yakima, Washington, later bishop of Spokane). [Scary, when you see it as a list.]
One other important name he leaves out: Roger Mahony.
Here’s an outline of Weakland’s offences from AD2000 (and this was only as of 1992):
1. He allowed Dan Maguire to continue teaching at Marquette after being laicized (funny; I thought Maguire was a priest), in violation of Canon Law.
2. He supported Dignity USA.
3. He actively endorsed a number of heterodox priests, discussed in the article
4. He not only said it was possible to be pro-choice and Catholic but called abortion a “complicated” issue and said that pro-lifers had an “unwholesome” and “fundamentalist” approach.
5. He made his infamous 1988 statement on homosexual sex abuse by priests, saying that many alleged victims were the real sexual predators, tempting unsuspecting priests.
6. In 1989, he told archdiocesan schools to teach the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS.
7. Allowed female altar servers before they were officially permitted by Rome, used inclusive language and called himself a “feminist.”
8. Actively promoted women’s ordination
At the time the article was written, Msgr. Fabian Bruskewitz had recently been appointed Archbishop of Lincoln: he was from the Milwaukee Diocese but was most certainly *not* endorsed by Weakland, and, at that point, no other bishop had been appointed out of that diocese in twelve years.
At one point ca. 1998/99, a Carmelite priest online told me, “You can’t just listen to people like Mother Angelica; you have to listen to people like Rembert Weakland, to get the balance.”
I took him up on the challenge.
Then there was his feud with Mother Angelica, recounted here:
In her live show on EWTN, Mother Angelica criticized a mimed Stations of the Cross performance that featured a woman playing Jesus which was viewed by Pope John Paul II at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado, in 1993. Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, Wisconsin responded in an editorial to Mother Angelica’s criticisms about the pageant and other post-Vatican II issues in the Roman Catholic Church, saying: “It was one of the most disgraceful, un-Christian, offensive, and divisive diatribes I have ever heard.” Mother Angelica’s responded to Weakland’s criticism by saying, “He didn’t think a woman playing Jesus was offensive?”, “He can go put his head in the back toilet as far as I am concerned.”
In April ’98, Weakland had published a piece in America, the liberal Catholic porn magazine,
reflecting on this ad limina visit to Rome and the state of the Church in the US, as he saw it. You can read it here, if you have the stomach.
A few highlights include his caricature of the Society of St. Pius X and other traditionalists:
The smallest group [who feel alienated from the Church] are the followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who do not accept the Second Vatican Council. They feel deceived and deserted by their church. Much of the problem stems from the formation we, as church, gave them before the council. They expected that the whole world around them would change but believed — were promised, they felt — that the church would not change. It would remain as the rock, the bastion against all the social changes in the world. Since they had received no training in church history, they believed that the church they or their ancestors brought from Europe to the United States had been the same since the time of Christ. Any change, in any detail, would mean the whole edifice would collapse. They have no connection to or understanding of Lefebvre’s French royalist leanings nor of the “Action Francaise” to which he belonged. [what’s wrong with that?] He became to them the symbol of resistance to change and the vehicle for their desire to hand on to their children the kind of church they grew up in. They will die out slowly, but not without much suffering. Attempts to reconcile them are almost impossible, since even the solutions permitted by Rome they find unacceptable. There can be no both/and for them, only a mission to preserve the old.
Apparently, Pope Benedict disagrees.
Interestingly, he turns to relativists:
There is a small, insignificant group of relativists who say one church is as good as another or one religion is as good as another, and so it does not matter what church one belongs to as long as one leads a good life. Religion for most of them means only how they relate to God. It becomes privatized, with little relationship to society and no structural or institutional manifestations.
Now, two thoughts here: I don’t think “all churches are equal” relatives are as “small” a group as he says. And, secondly, “insignificant”? In both these cases, he is speaking sociologically. Whatever happened to “The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to go after the 1 lost?”
Then there’s Weakland’s description of
Ultramontane or papal maximalist Catholics. This group is the most vociferous in the United States, spurred on by Eternal Word Television Network, with Mother Angelica and Joseph Fessio, S.J., as their spokesmen. Their theology can be summed up in the phrase “loyalty to the Pope” (hence they like to call themselves “orthodox Catholics” over against the others). That loyalty, however, is selective. . . . They are aggressively combative, and now, sensing victory, ever more judgmental and vicious. They seem to observe no boundaries between truth and hearsay, fact and rumor. Some of these groups are not always clearly religious in scope but seem to have at the same time a political agenda, mostly support for conservative political candidates like Pat Buchanan. It is not easy to love them. Every parish has a few members who, with little if any theology, try to hold the whole parish and its school hostage to their views. . . .
Unfortunately, this group presents a form of Christian spirituality that is more inspired by Bible-belt fundamentalism than by the great and well-tested Catholic spiritualities of the ages. They become the exponents of a Catholic fundamentalism. This trend has been accentuated in the last decade as several leading Evangelical Protestant leaders have become Catholic and are given a constant and ready pulpit by this group.
After dealing with “both extremes,” but focusing on dissing the various factions of the Right (including also Traditionalists who are not schismatic and those who follow Marian apparitions), Weakland describes what he thinks is the “Middle Ground”:
The largest group of Catholics in my archdiocese can be found in a kind of middle ground. They tell me they find Mother Angelica arrogant and obnoxious, have never heard of The Wanderer, do not read Our Sunday Visitor, The Register or The National Catholic Reporter, have never heard of Commonweal, care nothing about the Jesus Seminar people or the Catholic Theological Society of America and its disputes. The word “magisterium” is not in their vocabulary and seems new to them, not having been a part of the pre-Vatican II or even post-Vatican II religious education instruction our people received. They are proud of the present Pope, but have read nothing he has written. They loved the sisters and regret the loss of their presence in today’s church life. They like priests and are understanding of their humanity. They want their church to be an enlightened community, but they do not expect perfection. They have
accepted Vatican Council II and are happy with the results.
They seem to ignore much of the church’s teaching on sexuality and just o not talk about it, especially about birth control. They use common sense, they say, in dealing with many of these problems, having long ago ceased believing that all acts of masturbation were mortal sins, having accepted gays as human beings to be respected and loved but having many doubts about so many aspects of the gay lifestyle, being secretly sad that their children are living with partners before marriage but not wanting to break bonds with them. They are
pro-life but stay clear of the organized pro-life movements; they adopt
a stance that is much more related to the consistent life ethic.
So, in other words, they are *ignorant*, and choose to remain ignorant. Interestingly, this “middle ground” doesn’t seem to have many beliefs that “orthodox” Catholics would agree with, and many that “liberal” Catholics would, so Weakland crafts, as most liberals do, the illusion that “the ignorant, muddle middle agrees with us, because we tell them what they want to hear.”
Following the priest’s advice, I read this article. It left me pretty depressed and discombobulated. I started to wonder, “What if he’s right?” Particularly challenging was his claim that an active life of charitable service was the end of Christianity, and the sacraments were just the means.
Then, ironically, I turned back to my study of the Carmelite Rule, and read a quotation from St. John of the Cross, saying that vita activa is only a means of achieving perfect contemplation, and, once we’ve achieved contemplative union with God, no other action, whether it’s charity, or devotions, or whatever–is that important anymore.
No one would doubt that the 20th Century Catholic who embodied vita activa par excellence was Bl. Teresa of Calcutta. Let’s see what she had to say:
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
So, the idea that Rembert Weakland has come out of the closet should be no surprise.
It should be a huge validation of the long-held claim that there has been a systematic infiltration of the priesthood by agents bent on Her destruction from within,
It should raise further questions about Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, with whom Weakland was often associated.