Weakland Spreads the Blame
By Marie Rohde
Those statements prompted a call Thursday for a criminal investigation by a group known as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Peter Isely, a spokesman for the group, turned over a transcript to the Milwaukee County district attorney's office. Kent Lovern, the office's chief deputy, said the records would be reviewed.
Rita McDonald, a Marquette University emeritus professor of psychology who was long involved in archdiocesan affairs, was critical of Weakland for spreading the blame to others.
"He accepted some responsibility for what happened, but he never called the police," McDonald said. "There was always that caveat: 'You have to understand how things were back then.'
"Well, didn't you know it was sinful? Didn't you know it was a crime? What the bishops needed was a whistleblower in their midst, someone to say this is wrong and we have to tell the truth."
Weakland testified that he held a local church trial - a formal internal proceeding that he said had not been done elsewhere - to get rid of two abusive priests in the 1990s. The priests appealed to the Vatican their removal from the ministry.
In 1998, Weakland testified, he went to the Vatican and met with officials in the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, a top church office then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI.
"I pleaded that even though (one abusive priest) was retired and in ill health, that he be reduced to the lay state to bring some kind of closure?.?.?.?," Weakland testified. "And instead it dragged on and he died about six months later."
Whether Weakland made his plea for reform directly to Ratzinger is unclear. Weakland said he made his case during an ad limina visit to Rome. In a column written for the Journal Sentinel in 2005, Archbishop Timothy Dolan described such visits as "required of bishops every five years to render an account of their office to the pope and the heads of Vatican congregations."
'Mistakes were made'
Jerry Topczewski, speaking for the archdiocese, said Thursday that the appeals procedure for these cases changed in 2002, and that these cases are now handled more quickly.
"Back then, were these cases treated with the urgency that we are used to in the United States? Probably not," Topczewski said. "Mistakes were made. We do things differently today."
Regarding SNAP's call for a criminal investigation, he said it has been the archdiocese's policy since 2002 to release any records requested by law enforcement agencies, but it has maintained a policy of not making such documents available to the public, the media or advocacy groups.
Weakland's comments are contained in a deposition taken over two days in June by lawyers representing seven men and women who are suing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for abuse they say they suffered as children decades ago. The trial is expected to begin in June or July.
Messages left for Weakland and with the priest who heads the church court here were not returned.
In the deposition, Weakland also blamed the criminal justice system for abusive priests, decrying a probation sentence ordered by one judge and the decision by a district attorney not to prosecute a case if an abuser was removed from his county.
"It was the priest's individual lawyer who was working with the D.A., and it was that lawyer who then reported to me what that conversation was all about and what was expected of me," Weakland testified.
Weakland said the failures of others left him with what he perceived as two choices in dealing with abusers: Send abusers for treatment or move them to other dioceses.
Bishop Richard Sklba, who served under Weakland and now serves under Archbishop Timothy Dolan, was the "go-to guy" for church investigations of sex abuse cases, Weakland testified.
"He was auxiliary bishop, so I would say he was my main go-to guy on many things," Weakland said. "Certainly he would be involved in all of them (sex abuse cases)."
Weakland also was questioned extensively on the scandal that resulted in his sudden departure from his post in 2002: The payment of $450,000 to a man who accused the archbishop of date rape in 1979. In 1998, the man, Paul Marcoux, wanted Weakland to buy back a love letter for $1 million. Weakland's personal lawyer went to then-District Attorney E. Michael McCann, and criminal charges were considered.
"Counsel had advised that since it involved - would have involved - depositions all over Europe, etc., that the cost of trying a case like that would have been as much as the $450,000," Weakland said.
Bishops Accountability, a national nonprofit group that is attempting to document the sexual abuse scandal, posted in a searchable format the full deposition at its Web site at www.BishopAccountability.org/Weakland.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.