Though Christians today celebrate another joyous Easter, the Roman Catholic Church continues to be roiled by the devastating sex crimes committed for decades around the world by pederast priests. And now, sadly, Wisconsin is in the spotlight, thanks, in part, to a disgraced former archbishop who is desperate to rehabilitate his shattered reputation.
Rembert Weakland, the longtime head of the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese, has somehow emerged in recent days as a sympathetic figure in a scandal that ought to consign him to permanent ignominy. Weakland alleged late last month that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — today Pope Benedict XVI — failed in 1996 to act on Weakland’s request to defrock Father Lawrence Murphy, who is believed to have sexually abused some 200 boys in his 25 years at St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis. Ratzinger’s deputy allegedly declined to approve a church trial, citing Murphy’s failing health and the time that had passed since the crimes.
Murphy, who died in 1998, was never legally prosecuted. We now know this was not unusual, but Catholics in southeastern Wisconsin should remember that Weakland neglected for years prior to his feckless request in 1996 to take action of any kind against Murphy or any other priest in his archdiocese known to have been a predatory sexual deviant. That he now offers himself as a whistleblower of sorts is an affront to every Catholic who believes the church might slowly be learning from a self-inflicted wound that continues to torment so many victims.
To some, particularly dilettante Catholics, the liberal elites who wield inordinate influence in the American Catholic Church and a media that despise the conservative Benedict, Weakland is something of a hero. But the record, illuminated by the sickening accounts of boys preyed upon by his priests, tells a different story.
Weakland, who himself paid $450,000 in archdiocesan hush money to a man who accused him of date rape, was both willfully negligent and vindictive in dealing with the crimes committed on his watch. For years, he ignored evidence that boys were being abused throughout his archdiocese, and he now is known to have retaliated against those who pressed for action against the pederasts in their midst.
To be sure, Pope Benedict must more fully account for his church's failure to address the sexual crimes of priests, but he certainly is not obligated to respond to Rembert Weakland, of all people.
On a day when Christians humbly celebrate their salvation, offered through faith, sacrifice and forgiveness, Weakland serves as a symbol of the rationalizing, self-absorbed sinner who regards the attention of sycophants as evidence of real redemption.
Such arrogance is breathtaking.
Read more on the Outlook and Perspective pages of CSI's Walworth County Sunday e-edition on pages 8A and 9A. and add your comments below.