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Retired Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee enters St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Milwaukee March 29, 2009. (CNS photo/Sam Lucero)

Retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., of Milwaukee, a leading Catholic intellectual who pushed for social justice and increased power for women in the church before he resigned amid a sexual and financial scandal, has died. He was 95.

A classically trained musician who spoke multiple languages, Weakland died overnight at Clement Manor in Greenfield, where he lived following a long illness, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee said Monday.

“For a quarter of a century, Archbishop Weakland led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and his leadership embodied his Benedictine spirit,” Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki said in a statement. “His pastoral letter, ‘Eucharist Without Walls,’ evoked his love for the Eucharist and its call to service.”

A Cloud of Scandal

A cloud hung over Archbishop 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 at which canon law requires bishops to submit their resignation to the pope.

The following month news broke of an archdiocesan settlement in 1988 with a man named Paul Marcoux, who had accused the prelate of sexual abuse.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland, a leading Catholic intellectual who pushed for social justice and increased power for women in the church before he resigned amid a sexual and financial scandal, has died. 

Archbishop 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 story of 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, Archbishop Weakland issued an apology to the archdiocese “for the scandal that has occurred because of my sinfulness.”

On May 31, 2002, Archbishop 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, Archbishop 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.’”

A Rapid Rise

Raised in western Pennsylvania and ordained a Benedictine priest, the future archbishop rose to lead his religious order at a young age. He was 36 when he was elected archabbot for life of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa. In 1967, the Benedictines, while meeting in Rome, elected him the fifth abbot primate—head of the Benedictine order.

Archbishop Weakland chaired the committee that developed the U.S. Catholic bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter on the economy. He ranked that document’s development and the “events that surrounded it” among “the most important and formative periods of my life.”

Born George Weakland on April 2, 1927, in Patton, Pa., he attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Patton and then enrolled at the minor seminary run by the Benedictine monks of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe.

Raised in western Pennsylvania and ordained a Benedictine priest, the future archbishop rose to lead his religious order at a young age.

Following graduation in 1945, he entered the novitiate of the archabbey, taking the religious name Rembert. When he completed this initiation into monastic life the following year, he went on to study at St. Vincent College and St. Vincent Seminary, also run by the archabbey.

He made his solemn profession as a monk on Sept. 29, 1949, at Solesmes Abbey in France. He was then sent by the archabbot to study theology at the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm in Rome.

On June 24, 1951, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Simone Salvi, abbot of Subiaco Abbey in Italy. He furthered his studies in music in Italy, France and Germany, as well as at both the Juilliard School and Columbia University in New York City.

In his 2009 book, Archbishop Weakland wrote about how as he was ascending to leadership roles in the Benedictine community, the Second Vatican Council was underway.

He recalled his enthusiasm for St. John XXIII’s opening talk, writing: “Can anyone fault those of us who expected the council to usher in a new era for the church as it looked at its heritage, tried to renew and update itself, and then contribute to a better world?”

Archbishop Weakland added that during the council he changed his “image of God from that of enforcing policeman to one of a loving and caring parent.”

Archbishop Weakland added that during the council he changed his “image of God from that of enforcing policeman to one of a loving and caring parent.”

In 1964, he received a papal appointment as consultor to the Commission for Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council and was appointed a member of that commission in 1968.

He was elected abbot primate of the International Benedictine Confederation on Sept. 29, 1967. At this time he also became chancellor of the International Benedictine College of Sant’Anselmo in Rome. He was re-elected to a second term as abbot primate in September 1973.

He served as a member of the Council of Superiors General from 1968 until 1977, the year he was appointed to head the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

St. Paul VI named him archbishop of Milwaukee on Sept. 20, 1977. His episcopal ordination and installation took place on Nov. 8, 1977, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee.

Record on Sexual Abuse

The Milwaukee archdiocese had been struggling with child sexual abuse before Archbishop Weakland took office. He continued a practice of seeking treatment for offending priests and transferring them to new churches but eventually came to see pedophilia as incurable disorder.

In 1992, he dismissed the Rev. William Effinger from a Sheboygan parish and publicly apologized during a Mass for assigning him there following abuse allegations in 1979. Effinger died in prison after being convicted of child abuse.

Yet Archbishop Weakland still seemed to blame some victims, and many felt the archdiocese maintained a hostile atmosphere toward them under his leadership.

“Sometimes not all adolescent victims are so ‘innocent.’ Some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise,” the archbishop wrote in a 1988 diocese newspaper article.

“Sometimes not all adolescent victims are so ‘innocent.’ Some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise,” the archbishop wrote in a 1988 diocese newspaper article.

The article focused primarily on Archbishop Weakland’s call to remove abusive priests from the church, and he later regretted the comments about victims. He wrote in his memoir of his earlier failure to comprehend the impact of sexual abuse on children.

“If I have any sadness, it is that we have made too little progress in understanding and helping victims regain a full life,” he added. “Too many seem to be left in anger.”

‘Eucharist Without Walls’

In 2000 at an archdiocesan congress organized with the theme “Called to Live Christ: Eucharist Without Walls,” Archbishop Weakland in a wide-ranging keynote said the Eucharist sums up all the ways Christ has been present, is present, and will be present in and to this world.

“This is Eucharist without walls, without boundaries, without the walls of time, without the walls of space, without the walls of specific persons, races, nations,” said the prelate, who issued a pastoral that year titled “Eucharist Without Walls: A Vision of the Church for the Year 2000.”

“What it means to be eucharistic people will suddenly become clear to all of us” at the final judgment, he said. “That is a lot to look forward to.... Be aware of Christ’s presence among us. It’s full of mystery, wonder and awe. And the wonderful thing about it is the best is yet to come.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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