Father Martin apologizes for ‘not being clearer’ about Archbishop Weakland’s ‘sins and crimes’

Father James Martin Father James Martin, S.J., speaks at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin on August 23, 2018. | Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

Father James Martin, SJ, said he was sorry Tuesday for not having been clearer about the “sins and crimes” of Archbishop Rembert Weakland, in an earlier tweet noting the death of the Benedictine and retired prelate.

“Last night many people were angered by two tweets about Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who committed many sins and crimes, and who died at 95. Obviously I condemn his covering up of sex abuse and his paying out hush money,” Martin, an editor at large for America magazine, wrote on Twitter Aug. 23.

“I can see how people thought I was downplaying (or even ignoring) his sins and crimes. I'm sorry for not being clearer about that.”

Martin had, on Aug. 22, tweeted about Weakland’s death, saying, “An erudite scholar, gifted pastor and Benedictine abbot primate, his legacy was marred by revelations that he paid money to a man with whom he had been in a relationship. I considered him a friend and mourn his loss. May he rest in peace.”

Weakland died Aug. 22 after a long illness. He resigned as Milwaukee’s archbishop in 2002 after revelations that the archdiocese had paid $450,000 to silence Paul J. Marcoux, an adult seminarian with whom he had had a sexual relationship.

Marcoux said he had received the money as part of a pretrial settlement over a lawsuit. He characterized his sexual encounters with Weakland, which took place in the early 1980s, as date rape.

Weakland said he began having homosexual relationships after his episcopal consecration.

He dissented from the Church’s teaching on the immorality of sodomy, and the impossibility of the priestly ordination of women.

His own sexual abuse, and his poor handling of abuse by other priests, led to the renaming, in 2019, of the Weakland Center, which holds the offices of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

Martin’s tweets of apology for not more clearly discussing Weakland’s failures soon pivoted to a discussion of mercy.

“I was also surprised by Catholics saying not only that they could never be friends with someone like that, but that he should ‘rot in hell,’” Martin wrote Aug. 23.

“I take seriously Jesus's scandalous friendship with ‘sinners and tax collectors’ and considered Archbishop Weakland, a deeply sinful man, a friend. The heart of Jesus's message is that no one is beyond God's infinite mercy, not even a murderer, not even Rembert Weakland.”

Martin continued: “I apologize for seemingly excusing his many sins and crimes. That wasn't my intent: I condemn those actions and should have been clearer. But I also ask if people would have sat beside Jesus as he ate with ‘sinners and tax collectors,’ as he often did in Galilee and Judea?”

“May God have mercy on the soul of Archbishop Rembert Weakland, and may God have mercy on all sinners, which is all of us, myself included,” he concluded.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, in his Aug. 22 statement on Weakland’s death, did not refer to his predecessor’s sexual sins. 

“For a quarter of a century, Archbishop Weakland led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and his leadership embodied his Benedictine spirit,” Listecki wrote.

“His pastoral letter, ‘Eucharist without Walls,’ evoked his love for the Eucharist and its call to service. During his time, he emphasized an openness to the implementation of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, including the role of lay men and women in the Church, the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, ecumenical dialogue, and addressing societal issues, especially economic justice. May he now rest in peace.”

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Weakland was born in 1927 in Patton, Pennsylvania, and attended the minor seminary run by St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe. He was professed as a member of the Order of St. Benedict at the abbey in 1946, and took solemn vows in 1949. He was ordained a priest in 1951.

A music scholar, he was made a consultor to the Consilium, the committee that interpreted Sacrosanctum Concilium and that was responsible for preparing the revised Order of Mass following the Second Vatican Council, in 1964. He was made a member of the Consilium in 1968.

In 1967, he was appointed abbot primate of the Order of St. Benedict.

He was appointed archbishop of Milwaukee in 1977 and consecrated a bishop that year. He served there until his retirement at age 75 in 2002.

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