Recalling Randy Rembert, The Church Wrecker

The American Conservative [Washington DC]

August 23, 2022

By Rod Dreher

Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee was a liberal lion who worked to trash the Catholic Church’s tradition — and covered up sex abuse

Former Milwaukee Catholic Archbishop Rembert Weakland has died, aged 95. He was an archliberal who was at the forefront of just about everything bad that happened to the Catholic Church in America since the 1960s — including sex abuse.

Not that you would know it from the response that Vatican Pride ambassador James Martin, SJ, tweeted to his repose [see below].

I don’t at all blame Father Martin for mourning the passing of a friend, however great a sinner the friend was. But “legacy was marred” is doing a lot of work there. They recall the words of Boston’s then-Cardinal Archbishop Bernard Law to the serial pedophile Father John Geoghan, upon Geoghan’s retirement after cornholing little boys in a number of parishes: “Yours has been an effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness.”

Marred, sadly impaired — boy, the cover-uppers sure can make language do what they want it to, can’t they?

If you want to know Rembert Weakland’s real legacy, take a look at these legal documents complied by Bishop Accountability. Rembert Weakland was a bad man, and not just because he spent $450,000 of the faithful’s tithes (which he paid back later) to pay off a male theology student with whom he had had an affair. Weakland, a lion of liberal American Catholics, came out as gay in 2009. I hope he repented and found the same mercy all of us are going to depend on, but that does not cleanse his account with the world for what he did with the enormous power he was given by the Church.

Weakland was Milwaukee’s archbishop for a very long time, during most of the child sex abuse allegations against priests. The local church had to pay $30 million to settle the cases, eventually seeking bankruptcy protection. Weakland was one of the prime architects of the national cover-up of child sex abuse by priests. For example, Archbishop Weakland routinely shredded documents listing allegations of sexual abuse by his priests. And he confessed to putting priests he knew were abusers into parish assignments without alerting parishioners, because (he said) he knew that no parish would accept them otherwise.

He was widely considered, by both admirers and detractors, to be the most progressive Catholic bishop in America, in his time. He wreckovated the Milwaukee cathedral, and aggressively promoted progressive Catholicism at the expense of orthodoxy. Yet Weakland was a prime example of why the scandal was not ideological. The most liberal and the most conservative (e.g., Bernard Law, Fabian Bruskewitz) ran cover for pedophile and abusive priests. For those who engaged in these cover-ups, the most important thing of all was the clergy, not the children who were molested, and their family members. That is the real legacy of Rembert Weakland, a godfather of the lavender mafia. Again, I don’t fault Father Martin for mourning a friend, but to gloss over Weakland’s grotesque conduct in office, and what his many grievous moral failures did to that archdiocese, is too much.

Having a gay affair and stealing money from the church to pay your former gay lover to be silent is one thing (again, after it became public, Weakland paid the money back). But if a friend of mine had such a long and deep record of covering up for the sexual abuse of children, I would find it difficult to mourn them publicly, at least without a hell of a lot of caveats. But Rembert was Good For The Gays™, so I guess he gets a pass. I’ve known of Traditionalists who were eager to give similarly bent theologically conservative priests a pass because he allowed the Latin mass in his diocese. It’s all rotten. Nothing, but nothing, mitigates covering up the sexual violation of children by priests under one’s authority. I don’t care if everybody (= all the other bishops) were doing it. No morally sentient man can fail to know that this is an abomination.

Tweet by James Martin SJ
Tweet by James Martin SJ

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By LiesThe Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Leming—as well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.