Monday, January 11, 2010

Personal Aside: Now Hear This—Disgraced Milwaukee Archbishop Prepares to Dedicate a Bronze of Himself With Christ Child and Saints!

Feast of St Hyginus and/or St, Paulinus*

The former Catholic archbishop of Milwaukee will be honored tomorrow...if all goes according to what will surely be the most outrageous exhibition of turning a blind eye to disgrace that has occurred in the Church-at least in my lifetime.

Any Catholic who wants to see his Church rehabilitated from serial charges of sexual abuse extending back to the notoriously loose `60s will have trouble not regurgitating his breakfast on hearing this news.

Quite simply: Retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, OSB, who in 2002 acknowledged paying $450,000 from archdiocesan funds for hush money to a man claiming Weakland sexually abused him as a child...this same Weakland will ascend the pulpit of the Cathedral of St. John (which he lavishly redesigned with ultra-modern flourishes) Tuesday to acknowledge the unveiling of a bronze showing a defender of children-flanked by the images of St. John the Evangelist and St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. 

Now if that doesn't take the cake, nothing does.

As the installation of Milwaukee's archbishop, Chicago native Jerome Listecki, occurred just four days ago (he succeeding Timothy Dolan now archbishop of New York). There was the usual lengthy interim between Dolan's departure and Listecki's arrival and obviously when the cats were away, Weakland's pals scheduled this thing while nobody was in command with sufficient authority to derail this event. The bronze relief serves as a pedestal to the Mary, Mother of the Church shrine which is the Cathedral's east side altar.

Who commissioned the bronze of Weakland? Weakland! A bland statement from the archdiocese says it was commissioned by a group of lay advisers during Weakland's tenure but Weakland had nothing to do with the decision.

Yeah, Right.

Among those protesting this bronze dedicatory sacrilege are SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and Catholic Citizens of Illinois (which, in full disclosure, I serve as chairman) which issued a statement by its president, Mary Anne Hackett. Mrs. Hackett asked Bishop Listecki, who is regarded as an outstanding churchman and authenticist Catholic leader, to stop the dedication. Let's all pray he does.

The artists are Chicagoans, Jeffrey and Anna Koh-Varilla. Koh Varilla describes the bronze this way:

"The relief bronze panel below Mother Mary [sic] depicts the diversity [sic] of the Milwaukee Catholic community. There is the tower of St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in the background and St. John himself is on the right with Archbishop Weakland on the left [appropriate, say I]. The young mother in the foreground represents Mother Mary with the Christ Child and today's children. The elderly woman praying represents St. Anne [Mary's mother]. The portrait of Father Last [cathedral pastor] is depicted in the background...[O]ur intention was to merge the biblical message with contemporary reality."

Since dedication of the bronze is big news in Milwaukee, why isn't it in Chicago where there has been no mention in either paper...although both papers have religion writers and editors?

A smart guess is that the stifling climate of political correctness concerning gays has paralyzed the media. Weakland is a self-declared gay and liberals have congratulated him for his "courage" in announcing this. Courage? It took a major scandal to "out" him! Even then nobody would have been the wiser about the $450,000 if the lover hadn't put a second arm on Weakland for an additional $1 million whereupon the archbishop turned it down and the guy went public with proof...including love letters...that Weakland couldn't disown.

Named archbishop by Paul VI a dedicated theological and liturgical liberal all his ecclesial career, Weakland was a vocal critic "Dominus Iesus" in behalf of religious relativism. A musician and intellectual of no small accomplishment, he served as president of the Church Music Association of America, tangled with those he called "reactionaries" at a Consociato meeting and gave interviews to the press in which he regretted his failure to ram through modern music and liturgical dancing.

He retired on May 24, 2002 at the age of 75. That's the requisite age for bishopric retirement in the Church but some are kept on at the wish of the Pope. When the media heat turned into a furor over Weakland's yielding to blackmail that year, the archbishop urged the Vatican to act more quickly and retire him. It did. How he eluded jail time by misappropriating archdiocesan money is not a theological mystery but an intriguingly legalistic one. And what about the Church's usual requirement for penance? Far from being directed to a monastery to atone for his derelictions which would have happened in the Church of my youth, Weakland has been here, there and about. Not long ago I was in the University Club and there he was, dining with friends, festooned with the gold pectoral cross, blazing with precious stones and hanging from a gold chain around his neck.

Last June Weakland's autobiography, "A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop," was published dealing with his struggle with being gay. Immediately he got reviews such as this one from the Guardian: "[Weakland] is up front about his homosexuality in a Church that preferred to ignore gays." Again: up front? Hell, he had to acknowledge it since he was confessing that he raided the archdiocesan treasury to pay off the guy!

The guy was one Paul Marcox, a former Marquette University theology student who said in May, 2002 he was paid the money to settle a sexual assault claim he made against the archbishop more than two decades earlier.

In alerting Catholics about the book, an official statement from the Milwaukee archdiocese said: "Some people will be angry about the book; others will support it." Ah, that's taking a definite stand. In the book, Weakland details his support for misnamed "reforms" that have long been opposed by the Church and which he finds offensive: ordination of married clergy and ordination of women. He wrote a book appreciating the up side as well as depreciating the down side of homosexuality. In his long exposition of his life, he acknowledges transferring child predators to other parishes often without privately notifying the parish pastors of the child predatory occurrences. His well-written explanation of his actions nonetheless evidences that he is a CINO: Catholic in Name Only.

I cannot imagine how the Church has allowed him to get away with his weaknesses without so much as a condemnation. That to me evidences great human flaccidity, timidity and lack of courage in some, not all, of the Church's leaders. This isn't new. When Henry VIII took over the Church all the bishops save one-St. John Fisher-cravenly bowed to the king's usurpative authority. That's 18 of them versus one who didn't.

A remarkable statement in the book comes when Weakland says he's not bitter at the Church. Wow-that's big of him!

The ball is now in the Church's court: principally that of the new archbishop Listecki. One disconcerting thing: Weakland was on the altar at Listecki's ordination as archbishop. That would have to have been with Listecki's permission.

Listecki should cancel the ceremony, melt down the bronze and tell Weakland to either take up a life of penance in a Benedictine monastery or move out of the archdiocese somewhere else.

Your view? Write to me at


*: St. Hyginus [circa AD 142]. Little is known of Hyginus except that he was Pope and had a tough tussle with Gnostics, a variant of which taught among other things that truth is an amalgam of various creeds and that Jesus had perverted the initial true teachings of John the Baptist. His greatest opponent seems to have been one Valentinus who sought to influence Catholic teaching. Hyginus rejected him and Valentinus went on to found his own sect.

Of St, Paulinus [circa AD 804] much more is known. He was Patriarch of Aquileia, an ancient city in Italy located at the headwaters of the Adriatic. So brilliant was he despite his meager formal learning as a farm youth that he rose by his bootstraps to be a famous "grammarian" which was then given to those who could decipher ancient texts. He became a priest and was so smart that he was made a professor. He so impressed Charlemagne that the Emperor called him "Master of Grammar and Very Venerable." He was pushed against his will to become Patriarch of Aquileia and Charlemagne gave him an estate which embarrassed him very much for he wished to live a simple life of holiness. Charlemagne ordered him to fight error-and fight he did, against the heresy of one Felix, Bishop of Urgel who maintained Christ was only the adoptive Son of God. After disproving Felix, Paulinus risked his neck by declaring the forces of Charlemagne were wrong to try to force heathens to be baptized without the rite of conversion. Brave guy to challenge Charlemagne on this. A tough-minded, courageous bishop, a rarity then as it is now, unfortunately.

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