Archbishop Weakland begins his memoirs with an account of the penitential service he held May 31, 2002 in the Cathedral in Milwaukee at the time of his resignation from his role as archbishop after twenty five years:
I was about to face the faithful of the Catholic Church of Milwaukee to make a necessary public apology impelled by my concept of church as a community of loving, sustaining, forgiving believers.
The Archbishop recounts what happened leading to his resignation. Although he was aware that his sexual orientation was homosexual, as long as he had lived as a monk in St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from 1945 until 1977, Weakland had no problem repressing his need for sexual companionship. However, his election as Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order required that he make his primary residence in Rome for the next eight years. Because he had felt it was his responsibility to make a pastoral visit to every Benedictine monastery and convent in the world, he spent most of those eight years traveling.
During that time he became aware of a painfully growing human loneliness. After his appointment as Archbishop, he continued his pastoral travels trying to visit every parish, religious house and convent in his diocese. The deaths of his mother and his friend Pope Paul VI removed two of his primary supports. The subsequent election of John Paul II, who was non-supportive if not outright hostile, further isolated him.
He turned to Paul Marcoux, a young man in his thirties, whose companionship the Archbishop sought back in the years around 1979 who shared his interests in theology and sacred music. Weakland wrote love letters to Marcoux which expressed genuine affection for the young man, but broke off the relationship because it was incompatible with his vows and his responsibility as Archbishop.
As a result, Paul proceeded to blackmail the Archbishop. After lengthy consultation, Weakland agreed to pay the blackmailer a quarter of a million dollars from a diocesan fund to quiet him. Later, Paul demanded another million. When Weakland refused, Paul released the love letters to the press and went on television accusing Weakland of "date rape" allegedly occurring twenty-two years before. Since at this point in time the media was in full pursuit of priest pedophiles and negligent bishops, they assumed this was another example of the same and condemned the Archbishop. As a result, Weakland was forced to resign in disgrace in the public's eye from his role as Archbishop after twenty-five years.
However, this disgrace and resignation was the beginning of a new spiritual journey which Archbishop Weakland likens to a pilgrimage. So he set his memoirs in the context of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and named his memoir, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church. "The idea of pilgrimage means that perfection in this life is never achieved, only striven for, where the good and the bad grow up together till the final judgment (p.253)."
Weakland describes this most recent stage of his spiritual journey in these words:
It took time (for me) to understand...that there is a hole, a deep void, an unful filled yearning that all human's possess...and into that emptiness and loneliness no other person can really reach...That void comes from a yearning for the transcendent and will be filled with nothing else. Human love can only be an image, a sign, of the fulfillment that comes from the Divine. I vowed to accept this spiritual restlessness, working around it, not expecting it to go away, but eager to use it to relate more compassionately to others who deeply feel the same void.
Weakland explicitly rejects recent Vatican teaching on homosexuality:
I had rejected as unhelpful, even as harmful, the statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1986 that this orientation made me "objectively disordered" Since this orientation was not voluntarily acquired, such language was insignificant to me. Either God created me that way or permitted forces beyond my control to make me that way, so I felt no diminution of God's love. I do not see myself as a person defined by my sexuality (p.18).
The Archbishop talks about a "theology of contempt" aimed at homosexuals similar to the anti-Semitic theology of contempt in the early Church. This theology made it laudatory to commit acts of violence, originally against Jews, today against homosexuals. "To say that homosexuals must be treated with respect even though they are objectively dis ordered is demeaning, a new form of doubletalk."(p.24) The present Pope, Benedict XV, was the author of that document.
Archbishop Weakland then proceeds in a biography of 423 pages to recount his lifetime pilgrimage. That story makes us aware that we are dealing with an extraordinarily gifted and talented gay person. He was born in the town of Patton in the coal mining district of south western Pennsylvania, one of six children. His father, a marine veteran, died when Weakland was five years old. He describes his spiritual life as a constant seeking for the Father figure that had been there so briefly. His mother, despite extreme poverty and hardship, kept the family together. Her background as a school teacher gave all the Weakland children a deep respect and desire for education.
Weakland from earliest childhood showed a remarkable talent for music. He became a masterful pianist and organist. Music was to remain a central feature of his life; in the beauty of music he found his preferred way to encounter the transcendent, "I seemed to flow quickly and imperceptibly from an aesthetic experience to a religious one.... I really felt that God was present to me in and through the music (p38)." That love of music culmi nated in his receiving a doctorate in music at Columbia University. The topic of his thesis was the Ambrosian chant from the Middle Ages.
In 1940, Weakland entered the Benedictine prep school connected to the Benedictine monastery, St.Vincent in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and spent the next six years as a scholastic preparing to join the Benedictine order. He speaks of that period as the time he was "thirsting for knowledge" and developing his extraordinary intellectual skills. He became skilled in Latin and Greek and proficient in German and French. His skill in languages would be extremely helpful to him year later when as Abbot Primate he traveled to Benedictine establishments, over 700 in all, on every continent and dozens of countries, and was able to communicate in most cases to the monks and nun in their native tongues.
At this time, too, he was introduced to Catholic social teachings in encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum. While reflecting on the social dimension of the Gospels, he began to form the ideas that marked his political thinking for years to come. Reflecting on the war going on in the world, WWII, he learned to fear those who claimed so much authority over the lives of others and who were accountable to no one. In an article in America in 1985 writing about the growing tensions between the Church in the United States and Roman officials, he wrote:
I grew up with just as great a fear of Fascism as I had of Communism. Hitler and Mussolini were diabolical figures to me; examples of how single individuals with uncontrolled power over other human beings could cruelly dehumanize people sacred in the eyes of God, and could justify that abuse for the sake of an ideology. I guess I grew up with a fear of absolute power, unfettered and uncontrolled, held by some people over others...I know that this fear also affects my attitude toward church authorities and reli gious obedience (pp 43-44).
Obviously Archbishop Weakland thought that the Vatican was moving in a pro-fascist direction under Pope John Paul. A fear which, I think was confirmed by the Pope John Paul's rejection of the Jesuits as his confidants and replacing them with Opus Dei.
This was a period of great fervor and development for Weakland, but it had its dark side. As he put it: "Although successful in my studies, I cannot say the same about acquiring a deeper understanding of myself, psychological or sexual. I lived very much in my head, and my only emotional outlet was my music. Looking back, I was almost certainly oblivious about my sexual development and makeup (p.44)." This failure to provide for psychological development would prove to be Weakland's Achilles heel that would much later lead him into trouble.
In September, 1946 Weakland entered the novitiate of St Vincent's Archabbey and took the name of Rembert. He took to monastic life like a duck to water. Among the many things he admired about Benedictine monastic life, the primary thing was St. Benedict's understanding of authority and governance. "Throughout history Benedictine communities prided themselves on their autonomy and independence, expressed by the free election of their abbots and their vow of stability in a given community. The monastic tradition was the source of my positive attitude toward the concept of subsidiarity in the Catholic Church, with emphasizes the importance of decentralization (p.65)." He believed that the Abbot should make compassion the essence of his authority and rule the monastery as the loving Father of a family, consulting widely and basing every decision on what was the true good of the individual monk.
In 1948, the abbot sent Rembert off to Saint Anselmo, the Benedictine college in Rome to complete his theological and musical education. He received a superb education in theology. He spent his summers continuing his study of music, the first with the monks of Solesmes in France and the second at Ottenkolleg in Germany. In 1951, at age 24 he was ordained a priest at Sacro Speco, the mountain cave behind the abbey of Subiaco in which St. Benedict had spent two years of solitude.
Returning from Rome, Rembert spent the years 1952 to 1957 in New York City studying music at Juilliard and serving as a parish priest at St. Malachi's parish off Broadway on 45th Street called The Catholic Actors Chapel. He would later call these years the happiest years of his life. "My stay there was my 'second novitiate'; the first introduced me to Benedictine life, this second one just to life. I came to learn about the best and the worst of the human condition as it played itself out in the heart of a great metropolis like New York City (p.77). In 1956, he spent a sabbatical year in Milan where he pursued his studies of Ambrosian Chant. While there he first met Monsignor Montini, the future Pope Paul VI. His greatest success during this period was to revive and produce the early thirteenth century musical, Play of Daniel, which was a great success.
After nearly a decade of studies, in 1957 he returned to St Vincent Archabbey. This was a time when the abbey was in great turmoil. The community elected the 38 year old Rembert to be Abbot of the community. He held that position very successfully until 1963. Rembert became Abbot during the second Vatican council. It was his responsibility to lead his monastery and later the whole Benedictine order in Pope John's program of aggiornamento, bringing the Church into the modern world. "The council had a marked effect on me as a member of the Church and how I saw my place as leader of a monastic community." He hoped the council would move the Church out of the paralyzing stance of seeing itself under siege...to a more open and confident posture.
Sometime during the council, I realized that I had a narrow and restricting under standing of the Spirit's action. How presumptuous it was to think that any earthly body could control God's actions - God's Spirit working in church and world. Discernment became a new word in my vocabulary. God's Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ promised at Pentecost, blows where it will and is always out ahead of us building the Kingdom. We are but instruments of that Spirit. This was a freeing realization. (p105).
In 1968 at the age of 40 Rembert was elected Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Order in Rome and held that post for the next six years. During those years Rembert de scribes a growing friendship with Pope Paul VI but simultaneously the development of a serious conflict with traditionalist Cardinals of the Curia, especially Cardinal Antoniutti. Their conflict was primarily over the autonomy and independence from central authority of the Benedictine monasteries. The conflict was also over the role of women in the Church.
After visiting the convents of Benedictine nuns all over the world Rembert felt the need to facilitate the way women could use their gifts in the Church. "I had no idea how important it would become and how much opposition it would generate from Cardi nal Antoniutti and many members of the curia." For example, after Rembert organized a summer program for Benedictine nuns at St. Anselmo, Cardinal Antoniutti canceled the program saying the nuns had no need of further formation. Rembert went directly to Pope Paul VI who ordered Antoniutti to allow the educational project to continue. (This same curial opposition to nuns continues today with the appointment of papal inquisitors to rein in the American sisters.)
Following this meeting Rembert wrote in his notes "The Congregation of Religious wants a primate who will carry out its orders and take the blame if things go wrong. Such a procedure will be out of the question if their decisions go against my judgment. I am afraid they will have to execute them themselves."
I was particularly impressed by Rembert's reflections on his meeting with the major superiors of religious orders, especially Pedro Arrupé, the General of the Jesuit order who had assigned me to a ministry to LGBT Catholics and gave me permission to publish my book, The Church and the Homosexual in 1976:
Arrupé resembled perfectly what I imagined St. Ignatius would have looked like. He laughed easily and made us all feel at home. For the next two years I found myself working closely with him. I counted that relation-ship as one of my great blessings during my years as primate. As I came to know him better and better, I realized he was the most saintly person I had ever encountered - free of all bias, truly compassionate, deeply prayerful, trusting of others, and intellectually very sharp . Perhaps his experiences in Japan during the war, his presence at Hiroshima with the dropping of the atom bomb in August 1945, and his many years as a superior contributed to making such a holy and yet totally human personality. If from all the people I have known in my life in the Church, I had to select only one for sainthood, it would be Pedro Arrupé.
(This was the same superior Pope John Paul II at a later date deposed as General of the Jesuits because of his liberal views, substituting an octogenarian famous for his conservative stance. Among those liberal views was the fact that he granted me permission to publish my book The Church and the Homosexual.)
The Benedictine Abbots requested that Rembert as their Primate should have a first-hand acquaintance with life in the monasteries around the world in order to meet the needs of the monks. Over the next six years Rembert traveled all over the world making 598 visits to Benedictine monasteries and convents in practically every country in the world. As a result he became one of the best known and respected leaders in the Catholic church throughout the world.
My travels brought me into contact with many sensitive and remarkable women, and I prized my friendship with them. Their presence was en-livening for me; for the first time I realized how unbalanced my life and circle of friends had become since graduate school, rich with so many different men and women. All of this made me more aware of the lack of the feminine dimension on the Roman scene and especially in the offices of the curia. My travels brought me into with women who had a depth of human and spiritual understanding that I had never encountered before (p.199).
Reflecting on his vow of celibacy now that he was aware of his homosexual orientation he wrote these words: "Only now in my mid-forties could I come to terms with my basic orientation, admit it to myself, and then rethink what this meant to me. I never doubted my vocation or the significance of the vows I took; but now I had to see them in a new light, namely, not as the evidence of sin or evil, but as a new way of living the gospel of love that Jesus Christ preached. I wanted to be a person who lived by love not fear." (p.199)
During one of his last visits with Pope Paul VI, the Pope told him he was in trouble again with some cardinals of the curia. When Rembert asked why, the Pope responded, "You are very American, you know, You always say exactly what you think, and we are not used to that over here. But you have the complete confidence of the pope so why worry about a little cardinal?" (p.214)
Archbishop of Milwaukee
In 1977, Pope Paul VI appointed the fifty year old Rembert Archbishop of Milwaukee. Accepting that position, Rembert spent the next twenty-five years as Archbishop until his resignation in 2002. Following the same process he had followed as Abbot Primate he began a process of visiting every parish and convent in his diocese, meeting every priest and nun personally. As a result he was respected and loved by a majority of the priests and sisters. "If we really believe in the action of the Holy Spirit, received in baptism, working in and through all the members, my vision of the church had to be a vision in which everyone shared and to which everyone contributed (p.250)."
For the next twenty-five years there was a constant battle between Archbishop Weakland's efforts to carry out the reforms of Vatican II and bring about the enculturation of the American Catholic Church; while his opponents in the Vatican curia and a fifth column at home of reactionary Catholics such as Opus Dei and Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) who spied on him, recording every meeting he held, or sermon he gave and sent distorted reports to their allies in the curia. This fifth column was led by a polish monsignor who had many friends in the Vatican. These reports ended up on the papal desk. Every time Archbishop Weakland reported to Rome, he was called in by a series of curia officials who brought in their dossiers of reports demanding that the Archbishop defend himself.
The most notable event occurred with the nomination of Father Skiba as Archbishop Weakland's auxiliary. The appointment was approved in Rome, but when the Pope was informed that Father Skiba held the theological position that there was no biblical basis to deny ordination to woman, the pope cancelled the ordination. The archbishop flew to Rome with Skiba to plead his cause and, finally, the pope withdrew his objections. Commenting on that process Weakland wrote:
The process was impersonal, demeaning, unjust, and, most of all, lacking in any human sensitivity or concern for the life and reputation of Father Skiba. Moreover, the event confirmed a growing tendency in Rome to give credence to a powerful network of unofficial complaints that were influencing papal decisions (p.247).
Many curial officials had a pervasive negative feeling - almost a disdain - toward the Church in the United States. Americans were considered intellectually inferior, with out an appreciation for the arts: we were pragmatic and superficial, traditionless and without any reverence for historical treasures (p211).
Recognizing his intellectual gifts and skills as a leader, the American National Bishops asked Archbishop Weakland to chair the committee that would draw up a document on the economy, seeking ways to implement gospel social values within the capitalism of the American economy. Weakland spent five years of incredible efforts from 1981 to 1986 to accomplish that project. He spends the whole of Chapter 12 of his memoirs outlining the extensive consultations on every level that went into writing the encyclical, as well as the enormous political effort on the part of the wealthy to try to offset what they perceived as the "socialist" bent of the encyclical. (The same critique now being leveled against Obama's healthcare reform.)
The final draft of the letter carried the title Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy. At the same time, he collaborated with Cardinal Bernadin in producing the American bishop's letter on peace and nuclear warfare. In my mind these two encyclicals were the most important contributions of the American bishops in the history of the Catholic Church in America.
The letter on the economy seemed to be the last straw for Pope John Paul. He totally disagreed, if not with the content, with the process of widespread consultation that went into the writing of the letters on peace and the economy, seeing that process as a democratization of authority and a serious threat to his exercise of centralized autocratic leadership. He secretly appointed an apostolic visitor to question how Archbishop Weakland governed his diocese. One of the issues raised was Weakland's outreach to homosexual Catholics:
On the issue of homosexuality, they wanted to discuss the group called "Dignity" and the fact that this group was attending a Sunday evening mass in one of the churches. I smiled that I was being criticized because people were attending mass on Sunday. (p. 322) (Shortly after, the Vatican issued an order forbidding any Catholic organization to allow Dignity to meet on its premises.)
Discussing the great exodus of heterosexuals from the priesthood, Archbishop Weakland made the following observation:
When the great exodus came, fewer priests with a homosexual orientation left the priesthood. Thus, the proportion of gays in the priest-hood became larger than that found in the general male population, creating in some places signs of a visible gay clerical culture. As experience has shown, large numbers of gays exhibit deeply spiritual sensitivities that have made them effective priests. Moreover - I give here a personal opinion - many gay clergy were key players in keeping the Catholic Church in the United States alive and vital in that difficult period of transition. They carried the burden of overwork while they confronted the challenges stemming from the dramatic changes that the Church was undergoing. For all this -I am sure--they will receive no praise, only the admonition to remain closeted (p.339).
Weakland frequently urged the Vatican to consider the possibility of ordaining married men to no avail.
Another neuralgic point was the Archbishop's effort to reach out to the women in the Church. He held hearings throughout the diocese to give women a voice. As a pastor he invited those women who had had an abortion to talk to him about their experience. Of course he was falsely reported to Rome as lax on the abortion issue.
The Archbishop writes a lengthy and enlightening discussion of his strenuous efforts to deal with the clergy abuse crisis (pp.347-365, 409-414). He reflects on his own learning process, his successes and failures in dealing with pedophiles and the misrepresentation of his efforts in the media. He also discusses how frequently his efforts to deal with priest pedophiles were hamstrung by the Vatican which refused to allow American bishops the right to dismiss pedophiles from the priesthood.
A Prophetic Monk
In his last correspondence with the Vatican, Archbishop Weakland made this extraor dinarily accurate prophetic statement about the Catholic Church in America:
I feel that this is an important moment for the church in the United States....I ex pect that the moment will be lost in arguing over unimportant matters and that the future does not look bright. I fear, most of all, the vitality of the church in the United States - that I now see diminishing -- will disappear (as it did in the Dutch church) and give place to a greater indifferentism and personalism, so that the church will be more and more margin alized in American culture (p. 386).
Toward the close of his memoirs Archbishop Weakland does a critical assessment of the pontificate of John Paul II. He ended a lengthy assessment with these words:
He [John Paul II] did not read the signs of the times, namely, the openings of Vatican II toward more participatory government on all levels of church life...Discerning the action of the Spirit in the whole Church was not on his agenda. This failure was probably the most important lost opportunity in the post-conciliar period (PP. 407-408).
In the epilogue of the book called "Final Reflections," Archbishop Weakland recalls a sermon he gave in 2007 at a retreat for priests of the Milwaukee diocese five years after his resignation. He had spent those five years primarily in contemplative prayer and reflection, while he wrote his memoirs. One thing stood out most clearly for him from his eighty year pilgrimage:
I believe that God uses humans, with all our foibles and warts, to bring about a kingdom of mutual love and service. I believe that we are a communion of saints, but also, in the here and now, a communion of sinners. When the organizational structure doe not serve or facilitate these relationships but instead becomes an end in itself, it needs to be reformed, not abandoned.
In his homily to the priests, he addressed the question -- what had he learned over 80 years?
I believe the Catholic Church I loved and had served for many years was in denial....I realized that the Church had to do more dying before it could fulfill the mission given it by Christ. I was distressed that Church leaders, myself included, tended to blame everyone but themselves for the crisis in which the Church finds itself - the dearth of vocations to priesthood and the religious life, the rise of secularism in countries once Christian, the shifting of many in countries once Catholic to other Christian groups, the deaf ear given to the Church's teachings on moral issues by many practicing Catho lics, and the inability to deal adequately and in a gospel fashion with problems like sexual abuse.
We are, Weakland wrote, "in a lifelong spiritual search to become more Christ-like through dying and rising to a new life. We had to die to our old selves as church and as individuals in that church. Our conversion is a slow, life-long process."
To what should the Church be dying today? Weakland answers that from his own experience. The first and most serious fault the Church should die to in our day is its arrogance. Arrogance is defined as 'overbearing pride evidenced by a superior manner toward inferiors'. "I tended to be too arrogant, too cocky, too dismissive of other points of view". Along with arrogance goes a claim of perfectionism. The Church is not as the Vatican claimed a perfect society, but a "society of struggling sinners. "We tend to confuse the ideal with the reality; we like to give the world the appearance of being the per fect model. In this, we deny the sinful reality that lies beneath and in our day has become ever more visible. Priests and bishops are also sinful and need the same kinds of spiritual supports as the laity".
The Church must also die to its pretense at omniscience, which led bishops and priests to think the faithful are so ignorant that we must give them all the answers, that they really want to be led and not take responsibility for their own spiritual life (421-422).
The sum of these failings has led to what Archbishop Weakland calls "the neo-Pelagianism of our American culture, i.e. the belief that we can solve any problem with our own ingenuity and skill" (p.422).
All the great spiritual leaders of the past recognized the spiritual need of a fundamental experience of our powerlessness on the human level to experience redemption. This experience of powerlessness is at the center of all twelve step spiritual programs to escape addiction. We must Let go! Let God! A striking example of that redemptive process was revealed in the life of Ted Kennedy.
If we can undertake this spiritual transformation, then the recent disgrace of the Catholic Church can become a moment of redemption and transformation and a sign of hope. "Our dying does not of itself create new life, but the wearing away that comes from our dying to our corroding attitudes and actions permit the image of Jesus Christ to shine through. If this is true of us personally, will it not be true of the Church as well?"
A final reflection on this remarkable autobiography: I am struck by how all the special qualities Archbishop Weakland manifested during his long career were connected, even if unconsciously, to his homosexual orientation. Close to a century ago Karl Jung wrote these words about his homosexual clients:
If we take the concept of homosexuality out of its narrow psychopathological setting and give it a wider context, we can see that it has positive aspects as well....This orientation gives the homosexual a great capacity for friendship, which often creates ties of astonishing tenderness between men, and may even rescue friendship between the sexes from its present limbo of the impossible.
He may have good taste and an aesthetic sense which are fostered by the presence of a feminine streak.
Then, he may be supremely gifted as a teacher because of his almost feminine in sight and tact.
He is likely to have a feeling for history, and to be conservative in the best sense and cherish the values of the past.
Often he is endowed with a wealth of religious feelings which help him to bring the ecclesia spiritualis into reality, and a spirituality which makes him responsive to revelation. (The Collected Works, vol.9, pp, 86-87).
In an extraordinary way Archbishop Weakland's life manifested every special gift that Jung attributes to the male with a homosexual orientation, especially the final gift of "bringing the ecclesia spiritual into reality".
Another remarkable gay spiritual leader in the Catholic church, Matthew Kelty of Gethsemane Abbey, beloved guest master and confessor to Thomas Merton, wrote this about the special capacity of gay men for a contemplative life style:
Sometimes I wish I were more like others. I am aware of a difference; some in sight into things, some capacity for the poetic and the spiritual which sets me off from the others. Nor do I hesitate to say that this has some relationship to homosexuality... people of my kind are often so placed, as I have worked it out, that they are more closely related to the "anima" than is usual...What such people yearn for is solace in their solitude, and an understanding of their fate, their destiny....The man with a strong anima will always experience some inadequacy until he comes to terms with his inner spirit and establishes communion - no small achievement.....Perhaps a healthy culture will enable those so gifted by God or nature (i.e. homosexuals) to realize their call and respond to it in fruitful ways (Flute Solo: Reflections of a Trappist Hermit p.45).
I want to express my deepest gratitude to God and to my gay brother in Christ, Archbishop Rembert Weakland for the hope-inducing gift of his remarkable memoirs.