Pennsylvania abbey withdraws invitation to Rembert Weakland

by Marie Rohde

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Former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland had planned to move to a Benedictine abbey, but the abbot has rescinded the invitation.

"This past week the abbot of my monastery in Latrobe phoned me to say he did not think it was a good time to return there," Weakland said in an email to NCR Sunday, the same day a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel announced he would move to the St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa. Weakland joined the community of monks at the age of 18 and spent much of his time there over the next 20 years.

The Vatican recently laicized a Latrobe monk accused of misconduct, Mark Gruber, whose presence was creating some turmoil in the community. "The atmosphere was not a good one for me to return to," Weakland wrote. "Thus I will not be returning to Latrobe right now and at age 87 one never know what can happen in the future."

In Milwaukee, Weakland leads a low-profile life. He lives alone in an apartment and is said to attend daily Mass. He has no public role in the church, and when the current archbishop celebrates Mass and prays for the pope and bishops living in the diocese by name, Weakland is not mentioned. He was not allowed to deliver a homily at an annual priest retreat some years ago.

Archabbot Douglas Nowicki, leader of the Latrobe community, did not respond to calls from NCR.  

The abbot's rejection comes a dozen years after Weakland stepped down as the spiritual leader of the 10-county Milwaukee archdiocese. It is the second time an abbot rescinded such an invitation: In 2009, an offer for Weakland to move to St. Mary's Abbey in Morristown, N.J., fell through after the move was publicly reported.

Weakland was the international leader of the Order of St. Benedict for a decade beginning in 1967. His downfall came in 2002 after a sensational story broke: Weakland had paid Paul Marcoux, with whom he had an affair, $450,000 in hush money several years earlier. Marcoux was in his 30s at the time.

Initially it was reported that the hush money was covered by honorariums donated to the archdiocese by Weakland, who had been paid for speaking engagements. When the news broke that the honorariums fell short, a group of supporters raised enough money to reimburse the archdiocesan coffers for the debt.

Weakland had months earlier submitted his retirement letter to the Vatican and was awaiting the announcement of his successor.

Within days, Weakland celebrated a Mass and apologized for the affair. Almost immediately, the Vatican named Bishop Timothy Dolan of St. Louis (now the cardinal of New York) as Weakland's successor.

Weakland also had been dogged for a decade by allegations that he had covered up allegations of sexual abuse by priests, moving abusers from parish to parish without alerting anyone of their history.

He continues to be a key figure in the bankruptcy of the Milwaukee archdiocese, which is not expected to be finalized until fall at the earliest. Archbishop Jerome Listecki, who directed church lawyers to file the bankruptcy, said he had no choice because of pending lawsuits brought by victims of clergy abuse.

[Marie Rohde is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee.]

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