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(LifeSiteNews) – Rembert G. Weakland, archbishop of Milwaukee from 1977 to 2002, icon of the liberal Church, and the most disastrous American bishop of his time, died at age 95, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee announced Monday.

A theological dissident, practicing homosexual, radical liturgical revolutionary, and indefensible enabler of predatory priests, Weakland embodied the kind of failed episcopal leadership that has morally and financially bankrupted the Church in much of the Western world since the Second Vatican Council.

Weakland was widely considered the top liberal voice in the U.S. hierarchy during St. John Paul II’s papacy – until his career spectacularly imploded in 2002 amid revelations that he paid out $450,000 in Church funds to silence accusations of homosexual “date rape” against a former student. Weakland formally acknowledged his homosexuality in a 2009 memoir.

As archbishop of Milwaukee, the closeted homosexual prelate undermined Church teaching to a degree unsurpassed even by other heterodox bishops. He refuted Catholic doctrine on the all-male priesthood, demanded that women “must be given places” at top levels of the Vatican curia, helped launch a group that provided condoms to homosexuals during the AIDS crisis, and downplayed the grave, unique evil of abortion with his so-called “consistent life ethic.”

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Liberal bishops around the world continue promoting heterodox views on homosexuality, female priests, divorce, contraception, and more — advancing anti-Catholic positions that jeopardize the salvation of souls.

Such bishops often sideline, ignore and even persecute traditional Catholics who simply ask that the Faith be preserved and passed on to their children.

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After his retirement, Weakland publicly repudiated Catholic teaching on homosexuality, lamenting that the Church’s recognition of the homosexual orientation as “objectively disordered” is “pejorative.”

Similar to today’s Bishop McElroy or Cardinal Cupich, Weakland relentlessly attacked conservative forces both inside and outside of the Church. To Weakland, John Paul II was a “ham actor” who promulgated “heavy, almost arrogant” teachings while pro-lifers suffered from “narrowness” and “lack of compassion.” Mother Angelica’s famous 1993 denunciation of liberal Catholics was “one of the most disgraceful, un-Christian, offensive, and divisive tirades I’ve ever heard,” the archbishop charged. (“He can go put his head back in the toilet, as far as I am concerned,” the EWTN foundress retorted.)

But while Weakland chastised conservatives’ “cruelty,” he racked up abysmal failures on clerical sex abuse, protecting pedophile priests over Catholic families and children at virtually every opportunity. In a 2008 deposition, Weakland confessed to placing priests whom he knew had abused kids back in ministry with no supervision or notice to their new parishes. He admitted in another deposition to shredding weekly reports about priestly abuse, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Weakland disparaged underage victims, countersued them to recover courts costs, retaliated against whistleblowers, and declined to report any abusive priests to law enforcement, even after they confessed their crimes to the archdiocese. The leftist prelate’s extensive cover-up efforts allowed predatory priests to violate Catholic kids for years, despite complaints made directly to Weakland himself, and ultimately bankrupted the Milwaukee Church (more on all that below).

And even if children managed to escape physical abuse in Weakland’s pedophile-ridden archdiocese, they still faced perverse indoctrination through a sex-ed program the archbishop imposed on parochial schools that included drawing pictures of genitalia and discussions about masturbation and incest.

READ: The ‘Synodal Way’ wants to reverse Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Here’s why that’s impossible

Abbott Weakland, Vatican II, and the ‘hootenanny Mass’

Weakland’s extreme depravity was all the more significant given his leading role in transforming Catholic worship after Vatican II. In 1964, Pope Paul VI named Weakland, then a Benedictine archabbott, a consulter to the Commission for Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council and appointed him a member in 1968. The homosexual abbott helped prepare the revised Order of Mass, according to Catholic News Agency.

Weakland also served as president of the Church Music Association of America (CMAA) in 1965-66 and chaired the Music Advisory Board of the U.S. bishops’ liturgy committee, founded in 1965. He would later spearhead the push for “inclusive” language in the Mass as head of the liturgy committee.

In a 1990 essay, Msgr. Richard Schuler, a board member of the CMAA during Weakland’s presidency, detailed how the abbott desecrated the Holy Mass and sabotaged reverent liturgy across the United States in violation of Church law.

In America, Msgr. Schuler wrote, “the liturgical revolution against the Roman rite and its treasury of sacred music was led by Archabbot Weakland as chairman of the Music Advisory Board of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy.” Weakland and like-minded priests promoted their agenda of profane music and trivialized worship “through the official American agencies organized to fulfill the directives of the council.”

Weakland despised the use of Gregorian chant, Msgr. Schuler noted, and disdained the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, for being too traditional, complaining that “false liturgical orientation gave birth to what we call the treasury of sacred music, and false judgments perpetuated it.”

“Typical and perhaps most interesting of the innovations engineered through the Music Advisory Board by Father McManus, Father Diekmann and Father Weakland was the ‘hootenanny Mass,’” recounted Msgr. Schuler. The story is a striking example of how a “conspiracy” of dissident, often homosexual, clerics illicitly entrenched their vulgar, effeminate tastes within the Catholic Church and falsely passed them off as the dictates of Vatican II:

In September 1965, the Catholic press began to carry reports of the use of hootenanny music by those in charge of college and high school student worship. In February 1966, the Music Advisory Board was called to meet in Chicago, with an agendum that included a proposal for the use of guitars and so-called “folk music” in the liturgy. It was clear at the meeting that both Fr. McManus and Archabbot Weakland were most anxious to obtain the board’s approval. The Archabbot told of the success of such “experiments” at his college in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where, during Mass, the students had enthusiastically sung, “He’s got the Archabbot in the palm of His hand.” Vigorous debate considerably altered the original proposal, and a much modified statement about “music for special groups” was finally approved by a majority of one, late in the day when many members already had left. But once the rubber stamp had been applied, the intensity of the debate and the narrow margin of the vote were immediately forgotten. The Music Advisory Board had fulfilled its function; it had been used. The press took over. American newspapers, both secular and ecclesiastical, announced that the American bishops had approved of the use of guitars, folk music and the hootenanny Mass. Despite repeated statements from the Holy See prohibiting the use of secular music and words in the liturgy, the movement continued to be promoted in the United States and in Europe. Deception played a part, since American priests were allowed to think that the decision of the Music Advisory Board was an order from the bishops themselves. In reality, an advisory board has no legislative authority, nor does a committee of bishops have such authority. Decisions on liturgical matters need the approval of the entire body of bishops after a committee has received the report of its advisors and submitted its own recommendations to the full body. The hootenanny Mass never came to the full body of bishops; it did not have to. The intended effect had been achieved through the announcement of the action of the Music Advisory Board and the publicity given to it by the national press. It was not honest, and further, it was against the expressed wishes and legislation of the Church.

The gullibility of the American clergy and their willingness to obey was used. A confusion was fostered in the minds of priests between the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy and the Liturgical Conference, which indeed had interlocking directorates. As anticipated, most American priests failed to distinguish between the releases that came from them, taking the proclamations of both as being the will of their bishops. Meanwhile, the official directives of the post-conciliar commissions in Rome rarely reached most American priests. They knew only the commentaries on them provided by the liturgists both nationally and on the diocesan level. As a result, the altars of most American churches were turned versus populum; choirs were disbanded; Gregorian chant was prohibited; Latin was forbidden for celebration of the Mass in many dioceses; church furniture and statuary were discarded. These innovations, which distressed untold numbers of Catholics, were thought to be the orders of the Second Vatican Council. Rather, they were the results of a conspiracy whose foundations and intentions have yet to be completely discovered and revealed.

‘Architect’ of widespread child abuse

After a decade at the helm of the Benedictine Order, Weakland was fatefully appointed archbishop of Milwaukee by Pope Paul VI in 1977. The new prelate began acting on his lifelong homosexual tendencies soon after his consecration, Weakland admitted in his memoir, pursuing sodomitic relationships that would eventually bring down his career and create a national scandal for the Church.

And as archbishop, Weakland would not only be endangering young people’s faith through irreverent liturgy but abetting their abuse by some of the most monstrous serial predators imaginable. As activist Peter Isely, who was victimized as a child by a Wisconsin priest, attested, Weakland was the “architect in the widespread and systematic abuse of children by clergy of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”

“Thousands of children were harmed under his watch, and he bears the responsibility. During his tenure as Archbishop of Milwaukee, Weakland transferred dozens of known sex offenders into new assignments where they were warmly welcomed by trusting Catholic families,” Isley related. “These offenders then proceeded to abuse their children.”

Below is a just sample of the Weakland’s failings:

  • Following his installment in Milwaukee, Archbishop Weakland was informed about abuse allegations against Fr. Lawrence Murphy, a pedophile accused of molesting more than 200 boys at a school for deaf children. Despite Murphy’s extensive predatory background, Weakland allowed him to work with children unsupervised for years, including as a chaplain at a juvenile detention center, where Murphy allegedly molested other boys.
  • In 1979, the family of a victim confronted Weakland about Fr. Will Effinger, another notable serial abuser protected by the archdiocese and thought to have abused over 150 children. Though Weakland later testified that he believed Effinger had attacked children, the archbishop declined to report allegations against Effinger and kept him in active ministry until the early 1990s while deliberately concealing his crimes. Assigned by Weakland to Sheboygan’s Holy Name Parish, Effinger had daily contact with parishioners’ children, including at the parish school, and committed additional abuse. Weakland finally removed Effinger from ministry in 1992, after a victim recorded the priest’s admission of guilt and presented it to a local TV station. “Effinger was convicted in 1993 of the sexual assault of a 14-year-old boy in 1988 and received a 10-year prison sentence,” according to
  • But Weakland got his revenge: After Effinger’s conviction, Weakland countersued one of the priest’s victims, whose suit was dismissed due to the statute of limitations, recouping thousands of dollars in court costs – a stunningly brutal strategy employed by Weakland against victims whose abuse he enabled. “No bishop before or after Weakland has deployed such an aggressive tactic to intimidate and silence victims,” Peter Isely observed.
  • The archbishop had harsh views of minors abused by priests under his watch. In a 1988 column, Weakland chastised adolescents for sometimes bearing “personal responsibility” for their abuse. “Some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise,” he wrote.
  • Weakland would repeatedly stress his contempt for inconvenient victims over the years. In 1994, he described young men as “squealing” when they report sex abuse that they suffered as minors, suggesting that they only do so because their abuser “loses interest” in them. In cases of minors as young as 14, “everything has to be looked at,” Weakland insisted in 2002: “Say with a 14 year old … is it one instance? Is it a group of instances? Everything has to be looked at,” he said, chiding those who he said lack “sophistication in these matters.”
  • Weakland’s 2002 comments are especially noteworthy given the case of Fr. Peter Burns, who confessed to assaulting a 14-year-old boy in 1987. Weakland characteristically declined to report the abuse and allowed Burns to continue working closely with children, including through Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America and at multiple schools. Burns, who also abused children in the Big Brothers program, pleaded no contest to molestation charges five years later. Like many other victims in the Milwaukee archdiocese, the 14-year-old boy committed suicide.

  • While Weakland emphasized a distinction between priests who target pre-pubescent children and those who prey on teenagers, the archbishop’s so-called “sophistication” didn’t make much difference in practice. Weakland never reported abusive priests, regardless of their victims’ ages, and often enabled definitional pedophiles. In the 1990s, for example, he granted permission for diagnosed pedophile Fr. Jude Hahn to live without supervision in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, overlooking Hahn’s stated intention to abuse “small children.” “He is not well-known in this area,” Weakland reasoned.
  • And though the prelate often took a heartless approach to underage victims, he showed great understanding to predators. When 17-year-old Scot Edgerton of Pius XI High School confided to Weakland that Fr. Richard Nichols had sexually assaulted him and two other boys, Weakland responded that he hoped Edgerton would “learn to have the same compassion that Jesus had for sinners.” Weakland did not report the accusations and allowed Nichols to remain in ministry despite further allegations, including of child rape. Nichols worked as a child psychologist until 1984, when he confessed to abusing his minor clients.
  • Perhaps Weakland’s lowest moment occurred in 1984, when a teacher wrote the archbishop warning that since-defrocked Fr. Dennis Pecore, yet another serial predator, was molesting children at Mother of Good Council parish and school. Weakland responded with threats, warning that “any libelous material found in your letter will be scrutinized carefully by our lawyers.” The teacher and two others who raised the alarm about Pecore were all fired. Thanks to Weakland, Pecore would continue abusing a boy for another two years, until the child finally disclosed the crimes to his parents and law enforcement against the opposition of a social worker at his parochial school.
  • Even after an initial conviction, Pecore continued serving as a priest in Milwaukee and assault children for several years, despite reports to the archdiocese of ongoing issues. Pecore was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1994 for grievously abusing his own eight-year-old nephew.
  • Weakland’s abuse mishandling at times intersected with his homosexuality promotion. After Fr. James Arimond sparked a local scandal for offering pro-LGBT courses and defending homosexuality as “God’s gift” in 1987, Weakland promoted him to pastor of St. Frederick Parish. Predictably, the archbishop took no action after having been warned twice in writing about Arimond abusing a boy in 1988. The now ex-priest pleaded no contest to abuse charges in 1990.
  • Other predators protected by Weakland, all of them now laicized, include David Hanser, who reportedly abused four brothers of the same family, Franklyn Becker, Siegfried Widera, George Nuedling, who admitted to abuse but was left in active ministry and racked up 30 or more victims, and Jerome A. Wagner, among others.

Weakland’s sympathy for sex abusers makes sense: While archbishop of Milwaukee, Weakland, with his own depraved sexual tendencies, reportedly harassed younger, homosexual men who then pressed him for money.

As Weakland stepped down at mandatory retirement age in 2002, bombshell revelations emerged that he had reached a $450,000 settlement in 1998 with Paul Marcoux, a former student at Marquette University who claimed that Weakland “date raped” him in the 1980s. The archbishop denied the allegations but admitted to a sexual relationship with the man. The news sparked added outrage given that Weakland had doggedly resisted compensating child abuse victims.

In spite of Weakland’s efforts, the culture of systemic abuse that festered under his watch for two generations eventually pushed the Archdiocese of Milwaukee into bankruptcy in 2011. The archdiocese settled with more than 300 victims for an eye-watering $21 million four years later.

In 2019, current Archbishop Jerome Listecki purged Weakland’s name from church buildings and removed a darkly ironic relief in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist – which Weakland spent $4.5 million mutilating in a Vatican-opposed, early 2000s “renovation” project – of him shepherding children.

‘Erudite scholar’

Since the news of Weakland’s passing, liberal Catholics have fondly eulogized the late, disgraced prelate, despite his abominable record on all fronts. Dissident Fr. James Martin, SJ, a longtime admirer of Weakland, notably memorialized him as an “erudite scholar” and “gifted pastor” in a since-deleted tweet that generated intense backlash online. In response to a Twitter user who pointed out Weakland’s history of covering up abuse, Martin wrote in another deleted tweet: “Have your friends ever done anything sinful?”

The Jesuit magazine America, at which Martin serves as editor-at-large, similarly remembered Weakland as “a leading Catholic intellectual who pushed for social justice and increased power for women in the church,” with little emphasis on his now well-known, extensive mishandling of abuse cases.

The New York Times’ even more effusive obituary dedicated just two lines to Weakland’s failures to protect children and cited the bishop’s farcical claim that the Vatican was to blame for Milwaukee’s abuse issues.

Archbishop Listecki, who is seen as more conservative but has taken a permissive approach to homosexuality in the priesthood, made no mention of his predecessor’s scandals in an official statement on Monday. “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,” he wrote.

Archbishop Listecki will preside over Weakland’s funeral Mass on August 30 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

May God have mercy on his soul.

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Raymond Wolfe is a faithful Catholic journalist and editor at LifeSiteNews and is happily married. He formerly worked with the Center for Family and Human Rights.