Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rembert Weakland's Memoir A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Reflections

In December 2010, I posted something I had written in June 2002 in a journal I was keeping at that time, about breaking news that the archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, had had an affair with a man to whom he had paid money secretly out of archdiocesan funds when his former lover, Paul Marcoux, threatened to go public with information about their relationship.  My journal entry of 2 June 2002 states that the revelations about Weakland had left me cold.

I wrote,

It all leaves me cold.  I can't feel much of anything, because I feel very much cut off (emotionally cut off) from the shenanigans of the hierarchy.

And then I repeated that word "cold," noting how Weakland had disappointed me when I saw him on television at some point prior to 2002 talking about his love for beautiful women and his certainty that if he hadn't joined the Benedictines, he'd probably have married and have had a family.

Though this television interview predated the revelations about his involvement with Marcoux, I had the very strong sense as I listened to him speak about his heterosexuality that he was not speaking the truth.  Why I had this sense, I don't know.  Something just didn't ring true--or, perhaps more precisely, something rang false--and I remember discussing this with Steve, who watched the interview with me.  He had the same gut sense I did about these statements.

After I posted these reflections, a reader, Peacemike, challenged me to read Weakland's autobiography A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 2009) and see if it changed how I had seen him in 2002.  Mike also challenged me to write another blog entry after I'd read the book, discussing my response to it.

I take  challenges from readers seriously.  I blog in part because I want to keep learning, to keep revising my ideas as necessary, as I acquire more information about and understanding of issues.  And so I accepted the challenge.  I bought the book from Amazon immediately.

And then I let it sit in the current-read stack in my work space for three-quarters of a year.  Until several weeks ago, when I finally mustered the energy to tackle the book . . . .  And that in itself tells you something about my response to it, since I had tried dipping into the book several times before then and had been unable to force myself to continue with it.

I couldn't face the book, because I was still cold when it arrived on my desk.  I was even colder than I had been in 2002, in fact.  From 2002 until now, I have imprinted in the memory module of my brain a succession of episcopal images, one after the other, in addition to Weakland: Law, Bevilacqua, Rigali,  Dupre, Curlin, O'Connell, Finn, and, well, you get the picture.  Already when the U.S. bishops met in Dallas in 2002, we had learned that two-thirds of them (!) had, according to credible reports, sheltered and shifted around clerics known to have abused minors.

And that's just the American picture: since 2002, we've learned what many of us had long suspected about Maciel, but what hadn't yet been admitted or definitively proven.  We've learned more than we ever wanted to know.  We've learned about Vangheluwe.  About Magee and Brady and Ratzinger with Hullermann.  About John Paul II's refusal to move against his friend Maciel though what we all know now (and what church officials have long known) about Maciel stinks to heaven.  We've learned about the Vatican's role in thwarting the system set up by the Irish bishops for reporting abuse cases to state authorities.  We've learned about the role the Vatican played in the case of Fr. Murphy, who molested boys for years at St. John's School for the Deaf in Wisconsin.  We've learned about the Vatican's similar role in the case of Fr. Kiesle in Oakland, California.

Cold.  I feel cold, vis-a-vis the leaders of my church.  Almost any one of them you can name.  I feel ashamed, hurt, outraged, beaten down in the core of my being, where the tiny candle of faith, hope, and love struggles to stay alight despite that succession of faces.  And I've named only a small handful of those any of us following the unfolding of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church could name, if she or he wanted to compile an exhaustive list of names that have come to light from 2002 to the present.

Because of that procession of images in my head, I found myself viscerally repulsed every time I tried to open Rembert Weakland's book, knowing I had promised a reader of this blog I would get a copy of it, read it, and comment on it in a posting.  For months, I just could not, God help me, stomach the book and the story it sought to tell.

I'm being honest here.  I want to be honest.  If this blog is worth anything, it is worth something because I force myself to wrestle with the truth as I work on it daily.

I also want to be fair: to Weakland, and, above all, to a valued reader of this blog who issued a challenge to me.  And it was that challenge and my promise to Peacemike that finally forced my hand and made me pick up Weakland's book and read it from cover to cover.

And I'm now fulfilling my promise to Mike to blog about my response to the book, and any way in which it may have altered my perceptions of Weakland, now that I've read it.  First, a proviso regarding what follows.  This is by no means a review of A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church.  It's a very partial assessment of a story far more complex and exhaustive than the bits and pieces of that story on which I intend to focus in my remarks.  A real review, one that sought to do justice to the book qua a review (and it's a book that deserves careful attention, as does Weakland's life story, since he is, after all, a human being like the rest of us, journeying along to God, who deserves the same consideration any human being deserves), would provide a bigger picture than my remarks that will follow will be providing.

My response to the book will be partial and not a review per se, because I'm responding to a specific question from a reader: Did reading Weakland's memoir in any way shift how I assessed Weakland in my June 2002 journal entry, and, if so, how?  And I have to say with all honesty, in response to that question, that I feel no different about Rembert Weakland  after having read this book than I felt in 2002, as the story of his involvement (and sordid financial dealings) with Paul Marcoux made the news.

And that's a statement that I'll flesh out in a subsequent posting, as I get to the heart of my comments about A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church.  I'm breaking this response to the book into two separate postings, because this stage-settiong one has already gone on at length.

For parts two and three of this series, see here and here.  

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