Newly released depositions reveal that Nantucket's naughtiest nightowl, when he was an eminent pastor of souls, had an effective method for dealing with embarrassing documentation. He shredded it.
Former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland routinely shredded copies of weekly reports about sexual abuse by priests, according to formerly sealed testimony turned over to Milwaukee County's district attorney on Thursday.
In the deposition, Weakland explains that he got copies of the weekly logs made by vicars in the archdiocese about ongoing problem priests. He said he would read them, then shred them because he didn't want to keep them in his office. He would "try to remember anything that is quite serious and important," and later discuss the matters with the vicar.
Didn't want inadvertently to disedify the cleaning lady, I suppose.
Everyone has his favorite Rembert Weakland story. Many lovingly recall his remark that pro-life Catholics "need a hug and a laxative." My own heart is particularly warmed by the priestly solicitude he displayed in August of 1984. In July of that year, three lay teachers at an archdiocesan school wrote the archbishop that Salvatorian Fr. Dennis Pecore was inviting boys to his bedroom for purposes of sexual mischief. Weakland turned the tables on the informants and sternly wrote back: "any libelous material found in your letter will be carefully scrutinized by our lawyers." The teachers took the point, but they ignored the threat and continued to plead for an intervention. For their pains, all three were fired. In January 1987 Pecore was convicted of sexual assault on a juvenile (and later sentenced to 12 years in prison for another sex offense). After paying out $600,000 to Pecore's victims, Weakland wrote in his May 26, 1988 Herald of Hope column: "Sometimes not all adolescents are so 'innocent,' some can be sexually very active and often quite street wise." The pastoral touch.
When the sexual abuse crisis exploded in early 2002, Weakland was still riding high, congratulating himself on his accomplishments as a "maverick" archbishop. In early March he wrote his priests: "I would suggest that we all relax a bit on our Lenten resolutions. The bombardment in the public forum about pedophilia in the Church has provided enough penance for everyone this year." Shortly thereafter Weakland's world exploded as former catamite Paul Marcoux made public love-letters from the archbishop, as well as a settlement by which $450,000 of Archdiocesan funds were paid him as hush-money.
Post-resignation Weakland seemed only dimly aware of his disgrace and continued to write petulant (if muted) criticisms of Pope John Paul II and other orthodox Catholics. More recently, in his autobiography, Weakland admitted to several homosexual liaisons in his career as priest and bishop. As is perfectly in character, the conclusion Weakland drew from his infidelities is that it's the Church that needs to rethink her teaching on sexuality and the priesthood. The image of Weakland shredding evidence of abuse with one hand while, with the other, throwing brush-back pitches at concerned layfolk provides a wonderfully rounded portrait of this most progressive of progressivist bishops.
Which brings me to my point: Uncle Di's Christmas Gift Suggestion for 2009. For that irony-impervious prelate on your holiday list, I highly recommend Unfailing Patience and Sound Teaching: Reflections on Episcopal Ministry in Honor of Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B. -- a bargain at only $49.27! Think of it as a down-payment on Paul Marcoux's trousseau.
P.S. I expect it'll be a surprise best-seller in Ireland this season.