Today’s Heartless Prelate Award Goes to Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee!

Garry Wills, a remarkable font of lucid idiocy and idiotic lucidity about the Church writes a piece for the NY Review of Books which performs the now standard idiot savant trick of so many in the American media who accurately report clerical outrages and then draw lots of doltish conclusions from their own reports. Snipping away the doltishness, we find this flattering portrait of another of Fr. Richard “Set My Superior Chromosomes Free!” McBrien’s “Authentic Voices of Reform”, Archbishop Rembert Weakland:

It might be thought that churchly surroundings and sacred rites would discourage the priest’s sexual aggression. They seem rather to have stimulated them, providing a frisson of the forbidden. It was while celebrating an Easter meal with a family in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, that a priest, William Effinger, suggested that the son in the family serve his Mass the next day, and stay overnight at the rectory so he could rise early for that assignment. At the rectory, Father Effinger said that there was only one bed, so they would both have to sleep in it. No doubt there was a crucifix on the wall, as in most priests’ bedrooms. In Moravia’s The Conformist, the defrocked priest is kept from raping a young boy by the sight of a crucifix. (On a later occasion he does assault the boy, but only after removing the crucifix from the wall.)

Father Effinger was not inhibited by any sacredness of site or symbols from raping his victim—whose shamefaced agony was so obvious to his mother the next morning, when she went to see him serve Mass, that she quickly got the story from him and took it to Archbishop Weakland, who promised her that Father Effinger would be reassigned where he would not have access to children. He recommended for the boy a psychologist the archdiocese used, who reported back to the chancery, as part of his services to it, that the boy’s father “had the rare and God-given sense not to scream both to the police for justice and to heaven for vengeance”—so Father Effinger was reassigned to a parish by Weakland, where he was convicted of molesting another boy and sentenced to ten years in prison, where he died. When the boy finally brought suit for damages, a judge threw out the case because the statute of limitations had expired—and the archdiocese successfully countersued for the $4,000 it had spent on the court procedure.”

It is instructive to compare this noble moment in the life of the Great Man of Milwaukee with his own self-assessment, recorded by the inimitable Fr. Richard John Neuhaus:

I always thought that I would have made a great archbishop in Salzburg during the time of Mozart,” reflects Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who is a classical pianist. “But instead I’m the archbishop of Milwaukee in the time of rock ’n’ roll. That’s the way life turns out.” No doubt there are many Catholics, and not only in Milwaukee, who share his wish that things had turned out differently. He goes on to say, “Many of us Catholics have a certain ambivalence, a love–hate relationship, with our church. You can see that if you watch your newspaper’s letters to the editor. We are the only church that publicly criticizes itself in the newspaper.” With due respect, there are a couple of things wrong with that. I don’t believe for a moment that the Archbishop hates the Catholic Church, although, admittedly, he sometimes has an odd way of showing his love. The business about letters to the editor, on the other hand, reflects the lingering influence of the Catholic ghetto mentality. It may still be true in Milwaukee, but out there in the big world that is America all kinds of people write letters critical of their churches. Check out, for instance, letters about the Southern Baptist Convention in Memphis. It probably is true, however, that most other churches do not have bishops who regularly and publicly distance themselves from their church. Friends in Milwaukee tell me there is widespread agreement with the Archbishop that he does not deserve Milwaukee, and vice versa. Such harmony of feeling between a bishop and his people may be construed as an edifying spectacle.

Whether or not Archbishop Weakland hates the Church I don’t know. But he could hardly do more damage to Her if he did. And hate Her or not, it is clear he has no love for the victims of his abusive priests. If he hasn’t the humility to tender a resignation, perhaps the good people of his diocese might at least prevail on him to pony up $4000 to the victims of his contemptible and callous behavior. Where is Dante when we need him?


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