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Archbishop Rembert Weakland, Former Catholic Bishop Of Milwaukee, Says He's Gay

RACHEL ZOLL   05/12/09 08:12 AM ET   AP

Gay Archbishop

NEW YORK — A Roman Catholic archbishop who resigned in 2002 over a sex and financial scandal involving a man describes his struggles with being gay in an upcoming memoir about his decades serving the church.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland, former head of the Milwaukee archdiocese, said in an interview Monday that he wrote about his sexual orientation because he wanted to be candid about "how this came to life in my own self, how I suppressed it, how it resurrected again."

Called "A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop," the book is set to be released in June.

"I was very careful and concerned that the book not become a Jerry Springer, to satisfy people's prurient curiosity or anything of this sort," Weakland told The Associated Press. "At the same time, I tried to be as honest as I can."

Weakland stepped down soon after Paul Marcoux, a former Marquette University theology student, revealed in May 2002 that he was paid $450,000 to settle a sexual assault claim he made against the archbishop more than two decades earlier. The money came from the archdiocese.

Marcoux went public at the height of anger over the clergy sex abuse crisis, when Catholics and others were demanding that dioceses reveal the extent of molestation by clergy and how much had been confidentially spent to settle claims.

Weakland denied ever assaulting anyone. He apologized for concealing the payment. The Vatican says that men with "deep-seated" attraction to other men should not be ordained.

In an August 1980 letter that was obtained by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Weakland said he was in emotional turmoil over Marcoux and that he had "come back to the importance of celibacy in my life." He signed the letter, "I love you."

The revelations rocked the Milwaukee archdiocese, which Weakland had led since 1977. He was a hero for liberal Catholics nationwide because of his work on social justice and other issues,

The archbishop, now 82, said he seriously considered the potential pain for the archdiocese of renewing attention to the scandal and thought about waiting "until I was dead" to have it published. But he decided to move ahead with the project.

"What I felt was that people who loved me as bishop here, when they read the book will continue to love me. The people who found it difficult, I hope will be helped a little bit by the book," he said.

In a sign of the deep emotions still surrounding Weakland and his departure, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has released a public statement alerting local Catholics to the upcoming book.

"Some people will be angry about the book, others will support it," the archdiocese said.

Weakland also writes about his failures to stop sexually abusive priests. In a videotaped deposition released last November, Weakland admitted returning guilty priests to active ministry without alerting parishioners or police.

"Any deposition is just a part of a whole picture and that picture has not been painted yet. And anybody can take out of that any sentence they want," Weakland said in the interview.

"I try to deal with this, I hope in an honest way, admitting my weaknesses in not being able to see this earlier, but at the same time doing what I could confront it."

Advocates for abuse victims said that Weakland's cover-up of his own sexual activity was part of a pattern of secrecy that included concealing the criminal behavior of child molesters.

Weakland, a Benedictine monk, served in Rome as leader of the International Benedictine Confederation and also worked on a liturgy commission for the Second Vatican Council, which made reforms in the 1960s meant to modernize the church.

Weakland said he wrote in the memoir that he was unprepared for "how lonely it is" to be a bishop and how difficult it can be to get the "feedback and support you need."

U.S. Catholics have long debated whether the priesthood had become a predominantly gay vocation. Estimates vary from 25 percent to 50 percent, according to a review of research on the issue by the Rev. Donald Cozzens, author of "The Changing Face of the Priesthood."

Weakland said Christians needed to speak more openly about gays in the priesthood without the "hysteria" that often characterizes the debate.

The archbishop has been living in a retirement community near the Milwaukee archdiocese and plans to move to St. Mary's Abbey in Morristown, N.J., this summer. He said he was not bitter about how the scandal had eclipsed his decades of work in the church.

"I refused to let myself become a victim and refused to let myself become angry," he said. "I want to take responsibility but I want to move on."

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Filed by Katharine Zaleski  |