The Bishop's Tale

Book cover
A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Churchby By Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B., Foreword by Margaret O’Brien SteinfelsEerdmans. 384p $35

The English mystery writer P. D. James once said she would not review a book written by a friend. I thought that was good advice when I read it, but now I am about to ignore it.

I have known Archbishop Rembert Weakland for over 30 years. He wrote the preface to my first book, which was about the Rule of St. Benedict in family life. I have his picture in my office nestled in among photos of family and other friends. (He is seated at a piano engrossed in a Chopin waltz.) When I worked at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops we collaborated on a number of issues and projects. I respected his erudition and intellectual prowess, and we shared a love for Benedictine traditions.


So when I heard the radio report on May 23, 2002, that he had had an affair with a man decades earlier, and that in 1998 there had been a cash settlement of $450,000, two thoughts converged: one, that he fell in love, probably for the first time, and that falling in love has a way of humanizing us; two, that nobody in church leadership—bishop, cardinal, whoever—should have free access to large sums of money. I knew that canon law allows bishops to avail themselves of church funds if the amount is not $500,000 or more, and to do so without the involvement of the diocesan finance committee. But less ($450,000 in the Weakland case) does not require oversight. This distinction, while legal in the strict sense of church law, seemed to me to fail a basic ethical test, as normal people understand ethics. I thought at the time that canon law needs some fixing; I still think so.

So with these “disclosures” and concerns as background, I entered into the memoir of an American archbishop.

The author begins with his personal crisis: the revelation of his long ago sexual affair and the payment of settlement money. In sorrow and humility, he makes a public confession of his transgressions in the context of a penitential service displaying not only an innate sense of drama but also an appreciation of history. One is reminded of penance in the early centuries of the church, when certain sins, confessed in public, earned the penitent a pilgrimage, often to dangerous places.

Weakland, indeed, goes on pilgrimage in the pages of this memoir, and the reader goes with him. After his public confession, he returns, using Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as a map of sorts, to the places of origin that shaped him at various stages of his life’s journey. The family home in Paton, Pa., where his widowed mother raised six children, one of whom, George (later Rembert), displayed a gift for music; and St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa., where as a young teenager he began his lifelong explorations into the life of the mind.

The Benedictines gave the young Weakland the best education possible, not only in their own school, but later at the Julliard School of Music in New York and Columbia University, where he studied medieval literature, art and architecture. Columbia granted him a scholarship that allowed him to study in Milan, where he first met the archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Montini, later Pope Paul VI. That was the beginning of one of the most important relationships in Weakland’s life.

With every experience, his world—including the church world—grew larger and culturally richer. But the Benedictines gave him something more, something that remains to this day. They gave him the Rule of Benedict as a way to center his life and to guide him as he moved from one leadership role to another, nationally and internationally. He learned from the monks who were involved in his formation that St. Benedict saw the monk as one on a search for God. Benedict did not say the important point was finding God, but the continuous search for God. In all of the roles and responsibilities that were his over the years—abbot of St. Vincent’s, abbot primate of all the Benedictine houses in the world, archbishop of Milwaukee, a national leader regarding issues of social justice, liturgy, ecumenical and interreligious matters—always the Rule, the Benedictine way of life, anchored him.

As I read A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, I was reminded of three of my favorite memoirists. Like the Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz, Weakland places the self against a historical background. He demonstrates that the personal and the historical can illuminate each other, and bring history from the realm of the abstract to that of the concrete through the medium of the personal story. We meet the ecclesiastical structure of the Catholic Church through his encounters with real people, and history comes alive.

Patricia Hampl does something similar. She is skilled in relating the personal story to a larger horizon. For her, the memoir is an effort to learn things one could not otherwise know; it is a movement toward talking about big issues, including meaning and values. Weakland’s story does this too. With its triumphs and failures, its sorrow and shame, this monk’s tale not only moves him to a deeper level of self-understanding but raises big issues the church needs to grapple with honestly: the role of the laity in the contemporary church, and especially of women; the failure to prepare celibate leaders to deal with human/sexual development; the theological contradictions in the claim that homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered; the meaning of authority in the light of the Gospel; the structural reasons behind the bishops’ incompetence in the sexual abuse crises; and the uses and misuses of money. And that’s the short list.

Finally, I thought of Euginia Ginzburg, who wrote about her life as a political prisoner in Stalin’s Siberian camps. She assured her readers that she had written down the truth, not the whole truth, she said, because she had neither the range of information nor the skill and because no one knows the whole truth. But she insisted there were no lies in her account. I believe there are no lies in Weakland’s pilgrimage account. He speaks the truth, a deeply personal truth. Are there suppressions? Probably. We all carry unconscious suppressions. Might his judgments be skewed? Perhaps. Who of us is free of bias? But I can find no deliberate deception in these pages.

A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church becomes a lens for viewing—and understanding a little better—a period of church history where tensions, confusion and hope intertwined.

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9 years 5 months ago
Dolores is delusional. Weakland's memoir is the tale of a bully and liar.
9 years 5 months ago
The author asserts that there exist 'theological contradictions' in the Church's teaching that homosexual attraction is intrinsically disordered. Perhaps she has access to some sound "theological arguments" to back up this assertion. I think it much more likely that she merely begs the question.
But from a PHILOSOPHICAL if not phenomenological perspective, same sex attraction is indeed a disorder. Not a sin, not an all encompassing nulification of human rights, human dignity or moral responsibility in other fields of endeavor. But disordered nevertheless. To assert that it is not a disorder is to assert a novel definition of "health" per se and to reject the Catholic understanding of the human person.
To not realize that human love need not be erotic to be true is to be blind to the vast majorities of human (and divine!) loves. The first prerequisite of love is to do no harm to the beloved. But a homosexual relationship causes objective harm - even while the subjects may individualy feel wonderful about it. To deny this is to deny adultery or any other illicit relationship is also 'intrinsically disordered'.
For Weakland, I think the tragedy of the man is compounded by the author's assertion that his homosexual encounter was his "first love"... what must that say about his relationship with Jesus Christ? Or his relationship with con freres or indeed family and other friends? To reduce to sexual expression the concept of "love" is indeed a travesty and yet one, sadly embraced by many who claim to be brilliant scholars.
9 years 5 months ago
The Archbishop has written and honest and open account of his life. It is in the tradition of some of our best spiritual writing and I know I will reread it slowly for spiritual reading. He viewed his offices as ones of responsibility and service and did a great service to the church. Although some might disagree with Rembert I think our church could only benefit from more honesty on the part of the hierarchy. We are all sinners. Some are more honest than others, and are open to sharing their humanity as a help to their struggeling sisters an d brothers. Bravo
9 years 5 months ago
Dear Delores:
Have you ever considered the possibility that any name chosen at random out of any telephone book in America would be possessed of twenty thousand times more common sense than you?
Your victimization at the hands of whatever University has disgraced itself by conferring upon you a degree notwithstanding, your piece compels us to reflect anew upon the collective spectacle presented by our disastrously incompetent elites, who are unable to employ mathematics without destroying the financial system, or theology without destroying virtue and honor.
Rembert Weakland is a traitorous practitioner of simony, who defrauded the poor washer-women who scrubbed floors on their knees in Milwaukee so that Christ's Church might be financially supported, in order to hush up his homosexual prostitute.
Please, God, allow this woman to be ashamed of what she has written.
If You are feeling particularly merciful, allow the Jesuits to be ashamed of having published ut.
9 years 5 months ago
A beautifully written and balanced accounting of a book I don't want to read because it is so sad to think of the misuse of an archbishop's role and of his spirit. Clarifies a lot of what I have learned from other sources. Am happy to have learned of the author's personal relationship with the Archbishop because it makes the story real and believable. Thank you for your fine work, Dolores. You are a treasure of the Church.
9 years 5 months ago
How could this article be dated October 5 when we are reading it on October 1? It gave me a start! 
'A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church." Yes, the heuristic given us by Vatican II, in which we play let's pretend, let's pretend we Catholics don't have the Truth Incarnate, let's pretend we all walk along together, equal and free, gay and straight, Catholic and whatever else is happening that week. It's certainly a very convenient metaphor, too, for those who've gotten caught at their dirty little games. In fact it's a cliche, which the reviewer evidently doesn't know.
So, he 'fell in love'? No, he attacked Love. Love is what you do for life, and you make babies from it, and they form the next generation, and have their chance to go to heaven and live with God. What he fell into stinks.
9 years 5 months ago

Leckey’s musings are nauseating.  In her reflection on Weakland and the Benedictine tradition, “I respected his erudition and intellectual prowess, and we shared a love for Benedictine traditions”, she failed to recount the story chronicled by Saint Gregory the Great – the story where Benedict, while praying, found his mind filled with thoughts of a woman (a WOMAN mind you) who he had seen in the town.  In order to suppress his lust, he threw himself into a patch of thorns and rolled about until he regained control of himself.  Neither Weakland nor Leckey ought to be “romanticizing" the notion of grave sin.

9 years 5 months ago
I appreciate Ms Leckey's short list and would like to add one more item: clerical overwork.  Whatever the motivation, Weakland never saw a task he didn't want to take on and complete.  The yearning of his fellow Benedictine, Gregory the Great, for rest and contemplation is seldom encountered in this autobiography, let alone lived.  AA has a wonderful aphorism: first the punch, then the Judy.  In the archbishop's case, it seems to be first the endless, exhausting labor, then rest in the arms of a young man apparently on the make.  Alas, he appears to have loved neither wisely nor too well.  What Archbishop Weakland has done is provide a well-written, human, and [in every sense of the word] exhaustive cautionary tale for clerics.  He deserves credit and thanks for doing what few bishops and priests have ever ventured to do.
9 years 5 months ago

Which Canon of Canon Law allows Bishops to avail themselves of up to $500,000? How absurd the Vatican uses Euros - does the level of US Dollars a US Bishop can dispose of vary with the EURO/DOLLAR exchange rate? This $500,000 rule is fantasy surely? The money donated for the upkeep of the Pastors is held "on trust" by the Bishops for the purpose for which it was donated.
Paying £450,000 to cover up a sin, a mortal sin, is a breach of trust. Recall he had taken Solemn Vows of Obedience as a Benedictine (which include Chastity).

The Archbishop may argue in his book that there are "theological contradictions in the claim that homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered" but his actions - the payment of this sum to gain the silence of his beloved suggest otherwise.

If the Archbishop in this book is trying to explain his actions and to justify them he has made a
mistake and created "scandal" - far better if he had kept silent and make reparation in the
Traditional Benedictine way of being sent to a harsh Trappist regime to suffer fasts and
long vigils.

The reviewer may recall the story Thomas Merton tells of the Bishop, consecrated by Old Catholics,
who asked to be reconciled to the Church and was sent to Gethsemanai as a punishment. The Bishop himbly accepted this punishment for years.....
As a final point I recall that Archbishop Rembert also resisted strongly and in print Pope John Paul's Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei and condemned all efforts to bring back the "Old Mass."

Might I suggest that the reviewer reviews "Christ: The Life of the Monk" by Bl. Columba Marmion
to get a proper view of what a Benedictine life is meant to be like. From memory I do not
recall Bl Columba suggesting that homosexual inclinations are good and that the Traditional
Roman Rite of Mass is harmful and should be supressed.

James Pomian
9 years 5 months ago
An honest, loving account. Bravely written.
Should be required reading for every Catholic, especially those who remember Vatican II and what has been lost since.
9 years 5 months ago
Ms. Leckey's review is not really a review of the book itself, it is a glorification of Archbishop Weakland's lack of spiritual fortitude, and Weakland himself shows his corruption and the fact that the Church's LONG-STANDING BAN on homosexuals in the clergy (going back to the 6th Century or earlier) needs to be enforced and be in place. 
The Church has had and still has canons that clergy who violate their vows of chastity are to be removed from the clerical estate. 
This book is merely a "I did it and I'm gay and I'm proud of it!!!" in-your-face of a very weak man who could not fulfill his duties as a bishop of the Church.  The fact that he STOLE money to hush his boyfriend should have put him in jail. 
9 years 5 months ago
Maybe with the proceeds from this book Weakland can repay some of the $450,000 he stole, with interest.  This book does nothing more than glorify this man's sins, and appeals to the reader's inclination to lurid "soap-opera".
9 years 5 months ago

How odd it is that someone who worked for the USCCB and a priest-bishop both forgot or don’t remember the Sins that cry to Heaven for Vengeance.  Perhaps they never read the catechism (#1867), though these mortal sins have been in it for hundreds of years.  Of course in my own diocese, the priest who runs the ministry to priests hadn’t heard that this carnal sin against nature was in the catechism until recently (I guess priests don’t need to confess what they don’t know about).  Makes one wonder what’s going on at the top or does it?

9 years 5 months ago
How sad.  This review in a Jesuit magazine is one more piece of evidence that confirms my conviction that our Church is now deeply contaminated by those who reject the her teachings about sexual morality.  We need to speak up wherever we can to denounce those who dissent from the promotion of chastity.  We are in a state of severe crisis.  My rule is that if a priest doesn't teach sexual morality from the pulpit, he is not to be trusted as faithful.  And I try to tell him so as charitably as possible.
9 years 5 months ago
Karl Menninger once wrote a book called: " Whatever became of sin?". We might well pose this question to Ms. Leakley.
9 years 5 months ago
Carl Menninger wrote a book called " Whattever Became of Sin?" We might do well to pose that smae question to Ms. Leakey.
9 years 5 months ago
Carl Menninger wrote a book called" " Whatever Became of Sin?" We might well pose that question to Ms. Leakey.
9 years 5 months ago

Carl Menninger once wrote a book called: " Whatever Became of Sin". We might well pose this same question to Ms. Leckey.


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