Accused of Sexual Assault, Archbishop Seeks to Retire

Posted by on May 24, 2002 in All, Rembert Weakland | No Comments

Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee asked the Vatican yesterday to speed up his retirement, hours after a man gave a television interview saying the archbishop had sexually assaulted him when he was a 33-year-old graduate student, then paid him $450,000 in 1998 in a confidential settlement.

The accusation is the first direct accusation of sexual misconduct against an American archbishop since the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church began in January.

Archbishop Weakland denied the claim of sexual misconduct. He is the nation’s most outspokenly liberal archbishop, an intellectual maverick who often infuriated the Vatican by pressing for the church to consider liturgical changes and the ordination of women and married men.

His accuser, Paul Marcoux, 54, said in an interview on ABC’s ”Good Morning America” that 20 years ago he had gone to Archbishop Weakland for advice on entering the priesthood, and that the archbishop committed what amounted to ”date rape” after dinner in the archbishop’s apartment.

In a statement released yesterday, Archbishop Weakland said, ”I have never abused anyone.”

”Paul Marcoux has made reference to a settlement agreement between us,” he added. ”Because I accept the agreement’s confidentiality provision, I will make no comment about its content.” The settlement stated that the archdiocese and the archbishop denied Mr. Marcoux’s contentions.

The amount of the settlement is far more than the archdiocese has offered to others who said they were sexually abused by priests in Milwaukee, victims’ advocates said.

In his statement, the archbishop sought to pre-empt criticism that church money had been used to pay off Mr. Marcoux, saying that over the years he had turned over to the archdiocese the money he had earned from lectures and writing, and that ”cumulatively, those moneys far exceed any settlement amount.”

Archbishop Weakland, appointed to his position 25 years ago by Pope Paul VI, formally submitted his request for retirement to the Vatican on April 2, when he turned 75. The Vatican has not acted on his request, and Archbishop Weakland said recently he had been informed that all bishops’ retirements in the United States were delayed because of the scandal.

In his statement yesterday, he said he had asked the Vatican to accept his retirement.

Some parishioners in Milwaukee said yesterday that while they might have been able to forgive their archbishop’s sexual indiscretion with a grown man, they were angry to learn about the size and secrecy of the settlement.

Said Paul Weisenberger, director of liturgy at St. Augustine of Hippo parish in Milwaukee: ”I think what most people seem to be upset about, from what I’ve been hearing, is the payoff more than anything else. Why he settled for such a large amount of money and why was this settlement just in 1998.”

An anguished personal letter the archbishop wrote to Mr. Marcoux on Aug. 25, 1980 — made public by a longtime critic of the archbishop — seems to indicate that the two men had been involved in a long-running emotional relationship that ended when the archbishop resolved to return to his commitment to celibacy.

”I feel like the world’s worst hypocrite,” he wrote. ”So gradually I came back to the importance of celibacy in my life — not just a physical celibacy but the freedom the celibate commitment gives.”

”I knew I would have to face up to it and take seriously that commitment I first made 34 years ago. I found my task as priest-archbishop almost unbearable these months and I came to realize that I was at a crossroads — and I knew I had to get the courage to decide. There is no other way for me to live, Paul. Ridicule me if you must — I am expecting it.”

In the letter the archbishop says that he had already given Mr. Marcoux $14,000 in personal funds, and could not in good conscience supply him with any archdiocesan money. The letter indicates that Mr. Marcoux was asking for money to back an entrepreneurial video project he called ”Christodrama.”

”I feel you are putting me in an impossible situation here,” the archbishop wrote. ”I consider all that church money as a sacred trust; it represents the offerings of the faithful and I must be accountable to them for how it is all spent.”

The settlement and the letter were described in the ”Good Morning America” report, and the texts of both were later posted on the Web site of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which said that a handwriting analyst had confirmed that Archbishop Weakland wrote the letter.

The letter was given to news outlets by Peter Isley, a sexual abuse victim and a vocal critic of Archbishop Weakland.

Mr Isley, the Milwaukee representative of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that he had never met or spoken with Mr. Marcoux and that the letter had been delivered to his house anonymously. He would not say when he received the letter.

”I took it as a kind of insurance, in case they came after me,” Mr. Isley said. ”This is yet another piece of evidence in a pattern of behavior and action documented for over 15 years that Archbishop Weakland and many other bishops have been thoroughly compromised on the issue of sexual abuse and misconduct.”

Mr. Marcoux, who has lived in San Francisco and Michigan, did not respond to requests for an interview. The lawyer who represented him in the settlement, Brent D. Tyler of Montreal, said that he had been advised by his client and an American lawyer to say nothing.

A provision in the settlement says that Mr. Marcoux agreed not to publish or disclose the accusations to any individual or any media, and that if he broke the confidentiality agreement, ”he will return to the Archdiocese all sums paid to him under this Agreement.”

Mr. Marcoux’s ”Christodrama” venture produced a two-volume set of videos purchased by the dioceses of Portland, Seattle and a few others. The videos, 11 minutes and 48 minutes long, are described as dramatized Bible stories that help young adults live the faith more fully.

They have never been very popular, and are no longer listed in the on-line catalog of Harcourt Religion Publishers, formerly Brown-Roa, which originally distributed them.

Some of the archbishop’s admirers yesterday bemoaned the coda to the career of a bishop considered a Renaissance man and one of the few remaining liberal prelates.

”Archbishop Weakland has been a leading figure in calling for progressive reforms in our church and justice in our society,” said Dan Daley, co-director of Call to Action, a 25,000-member church reform group based in Chicago. ”It’s always shocking to hear of sex-abuse allegations, especially toward bishops.”

Margaret Steinfels, editor of the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal, said, ”It is a tragedy that legitimate concerns about the sexual abuse of children by priests is turning into a sexual witch hunt.” She called the archbishop’s involvement with Mr. Marcoux ”perhaps an indiscretion, perhaps a grave sin.”

The accusations against the archbishop came one day after Bishop J. Kendrick Williams of Lexington, Ky., placed himself on leave after a man filed a lawsuit contending that Bishop Kendrick had abused him 21 years ago when he was 12. Bishop Williams denied the accusation.

In recent weeks Archbishop Weakland has been besieged by reports that his program on sexual abuse, named ”Project Benjamin,” was little more than window dressing.

Peggy Jude of Racine, Wis., told the archdiocese in 1975 that she was abused by a priest in a Milwaukee parish from age 9 to 17. She said the archdiocese offered her $20,000 and then retracted it after a court ruling that put her claim beyond the statute of limitations.

”We never saw a penny,” Ms. Jude said. ”Abuse that happens as a child has all sorts of psychological ramifications, and recovery is very hard. I think for what we’ve paid for my husband’s therapy, my therapy and marriage therapy, and therapy for my two children, $400,000 seems in the ballpark.”

Accused of Sexual Assault, Archbishop Seeks to Retire
Laurie Goodstein
May 24, 2002