The invitation to Archbishop Rembert George Weakland O.S.B. of Milwaukee to address a National Liturgical Music Convention - "New Song in an Ancient Land" - in Melbourne from 18-23 April 1993 has excited considerable comment among those familiar with his record and activities. Although the Convention organiser described the Archbishop as "one of the great visionaries of the Church today", this is not the opinion of the Holy See. The Archbishop's long record of opposition - in fact, if not in theory - to the Church's declared moral teaching led the Vatican to request the (Pontifical) University of Fribourg NOT to confer an honorary doctorate on the Milwaukee prelate.
Along with Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, Archbishop Weakland has led the push for a far more distinctively "American Church", as independent as possible from Rome. Associated with this 'push' have been Weakland's highly controversial policies and views on abortion, homosexuality, AIDS education, sex education, clerical pedophilia and feminism. Presumably these developments would make the American Church more American. That it would also be less Catholic is equally clear. Whether it would be Catholic at all remains an open question. That is what makes Archbishop Weakland's invitation to Australia - even to a liturgical convention - more puzzling. That the invitation will be construed as an act of support for him and of his less than solidarity with the Holy See can hardly be questioned.
Archbishop Weakland is a co-founder of the AIDS Resource Centre of Wisconsin /Milwaukee AIDS Project (ARCW/NIAP). His name has appeared on official letterhead and he has solicited funds - even donating archdiocesan funds to ARCW/MAP. A recent past-president of this organisation was known to have been a homosexual activist. The organisation distributes AIDS education brochures including instruction on "safe sex" which, apart from advocating condom usage, suggest "Watersports - urinating on each other", mutual masturbation, oral sex and other activities far too distasteful to list here. Additional literature distributed by ARCW/MAP carries advertisements for X-rated gay movies, gay baths and bars, pictures of gay strippers and a Gay Photo Calendar. In 1987, Weakland was asked by a group of lay Catholics to resign his position as co-chairman of the Board of Trustees of ARCW/MAP, but he declined to do so.
Archbishop Weakland has allowed ex-priest and open dissenter Professor Daniel Maguire, to continue to teach moral theology at Milwaukee's Marquette University in clear contravention of Canon Law: Maguire has appeared regularly on the U.S. media justifying abortion and advocating the admission of active homosexuals to the priesthood.
Dignity, the American-based organisation of homosexuals (Acceptance is the Australian off-shoot), has declared: "We affirm that gay and lesbian people can express their sexuality physically in a unitive manner that is loving, life-giving and affirming" while it "emphatically disagrees with and calls for a re-examination" of official Church teaching on homosexuality (National Catholic Register, August 14, 1987). Yet Dignity continues to hold Masses at Milwaukee's St Pius X Church contrary to Vatican directives (The Wall Street Journal, July 11, 1991). In 1991, prior to Milwaukee's "Gay Pride Week", Church facilities were made available for several fund-raising dinners to raise money for the "Gay Pride Parade."
One of the several priests who celebrated Masses for Dignity-Milwaukee was Father James L. Arimond. Archbishop Weakland had supported Fr Arimond against Catholics United for the Faith's 1987 criticisms of his dissenting teachings in a course of lectures, "Homosexuality and Its Impact on the Family", given at the archdiocesan Archbishop Cousins Catholic Centre. Soon afterwards the Archbishop promoted Fr Arimond to the rank of parish pastor.
But three years later Fr Arimond was placed on an "administrative leave of absence pending an investigation into allegations of misconduct" (Milwaukee Journal January 22, 1990) and the Milwaukee Sentinel reported Arimond's imprisonment after a "no contest" to charges of pedophilia (July 24, 1990).
In July 1983, a new "pastoral team" was appointed to a Milwaukee parish. When the priest-principal of the parish school (of 15 years) queried the team's immoral/homosexual activities they had him sacked. Three teachers then wrote a letter (signed by one of them) to Archbishop Weakland on the "improper conduct and scandal" of one of the new assistant "team" priests. The Archbishop's response was to threaten the letter's signatory with a libel suit.
Soon afterwards all three teachers were pressured to resign. However, the team-priest in question, Fr Dennis Pecore, was later charged with pedophilia and jailed, also involving the archdiocese in a damages suit of $595,000 plus about $200,000 legal costs.
Less than a month later, Milwaukee's diocesan paper, the Catholic Herald reported the Archbishop's views on clerical pedophilia (May 26, 1988): "Not all adolescent victims are so innocent. Some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise. We frequently try such adolescents for crimes as adults at that age." The prosecutor of the Fr Pecore case, Milwaukee's Assistant District Attorney, criticised the Archbishop for perpetuating the "victim-must-share-the-blame syndrome."
In spring 1989 Weakland called on all archdiocesan schools to teach students how to use condoms as part of an AIDS education program. Despite the U.S. Bishops' statement that "teaching on chastity, not condoms" was the appropriate response to AIDS, the Archbishop retained the condom policy. He also approved a graphic sex education program "Valuing your Sexuality" which teaches 6th-9th grade students, for example, that "There is no right and no wrong" when it comes to contraception, abortion or sex before marriage. All of Milwaukee's Catholic schools are required to provide AIDS and sex education on the above lines to retain diocesan accreditation.
In a published interview in the Milwaukee Sentinel (May 21, 1990) headlined "Weakland: Pro-choice could be OK", the Archbishop replied to a question on whether a person could be a good Catholic and hold a pro-choice view about abortion: "Yes. There are possibilities there. One could reconcile their stance with a Church position. I think that is a possibility."
In his 5,000 word written "response" to six "listening sessions" he had held with Catholic women about abortion in March/April 1990 Weakland criticised the Church's "unequivocal" position as "too simplistic an answer to a complicated and emotional question and does not resolve all the concomitant problems surrounding the issue raised in a pluralistic society...". He also chided pro-life women for exhibiting an "unwholesome", "fundamentalist" approach to Scripture, "proof-texting in ways that are not our tradition", adding that "many wonderful pastoral priests" dislike the pro-life movement's "narrowness", lack of compassion" and lack of civility." Weakland later commented on pro-lifers after a "Respect Life" Mass he celebrated in Milwaukee: "Such a difficult group to preach to. Such hard faces. Such surety. No smiles. No openness to any other point of view ... They have no joy in being Catholic or part of a Church" (The New Yorker, July 15,1991).
The Weakland liberal position on 'choice' drew praise from Detroit's auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (who is scheduled to visit Australia this month), Catholics for a Free Choice, the pro-choice Sisters of Loretto Women's Network, Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League. Bishop Gumbleton called it "a definite step in the right direction". Many orthodox American bishops promptly distanced themselves from Weakland's statement, with Denver's Archbishop Francis Stafford declaring: "It [abortion] can never be justified by appeal to a personal right to choose or to exercise one's constitutional right to privacy."
Ordination of Women
Archbishop Weakland calls himself a feminist and as well as approving inclusive language and altar girls - still forbidden by the Holy See - in his churches, he favours (Brisbane Courier Mail, August 1, 1991) the ordination of women as a solution to the priest shortage worldwide and leading to a "more intelligent and compassionate Church".
When the Swiss Catholic University of Fribourg sought to confer an honorary doctorate on Weakland, the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education blocked the move, stating in its letter to Fribourg University: "With regard to Archbishop Rembert Weakland, this prelate has recently taken certain positions relating to the question of abortion which are not without doctrinal importance and which are causing a great deal of confusion amongst the faithful in the United States".
The New Yorker interviews with the Archbishop (July 15 and July 22, 1991) revealed outspokenly anti-Rome sentiments: "I have to hand it to the Vatican. It has been successful; it has sent a chill through the American Church. Take Hunthausen - Dutch, we call him. Rome broke him, and the point was made that anyone who follows in his footsteps will be similarly broken. The implied message is 'If you stand up to us, you're going to suffer'." As for the Curia: "I'm sure they are thinking up ways to keep me in line, to criticise me, isolate me."
Until recently, it had been twelve years since a priest of the Milwaukee diocese had been consecrated a bishop, as Weakland's suggestions continued to be ignored by Rome. Archbishop Weakland did not appear to be involved in the appointment of Msgr Fabian Bruskewitz who, in March 1992, was named Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, an appointment praised by orthodox Catholics.
It appears that a stand-off now exists between Weakland and the Vatican. Unfortunately for his long-suffering diocese - many of which have petitioned Rome for his removal - the Archbishop still has about ten more years till retirement. As The New Yorker's report put it: "... realising that he would spend the rest of his ecclesiastical life in Milwaukee, the Archbishop decided that he wanted more privacy than his apartment in St John's Cathedral rectory provided. He gave approval for the renovation of an old brick building in the grounds of the archdiocesan St Francis Seminary; he moved in 1991 (Spring). The renovations were said to have cost the archdiocese at least $500,000 (Milwaukee Sentinel, March 5,1991).
That Archbishop Weakland has not altered his moral thinking was evident in his critical reaction to a recent Vatican statement on homosexuality directed to the U.S. Bishops (London Tablet, 1 August 1992), issued in the context of 'gay' political pressures to gain full recognition for such things as homosexual 'marriages' and the adoption of children.
The Archbishop criticised the document - which merely repeated official Church teachings on homosexuality - for condoning "discrimination" and added that it would not be helpful in the United States - "a pluralist nation".