Former Milwaukee Catholic Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, who retired in 2002 amid accusations of a sexual scandal, has decided to leave Milwaukee for a Benedictine abbey in New Jersey.
Weakland, 82, has accepted an invitation to live out his retirement years at St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, N.J., the archdiocese said.
Reached by telephone Thursday morning, Weakland declined to comment. He said he would not agree to be interviewed by the Journal Sentinel, which has reported extensively on his personal scandal and his alleged role in covering up sex abuse by other priests, now the subject of civil lawsuits.
Asked why, Weakland said, “I’m not giving any reasons, thank you,” before hanging up.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf announced Weakland’s departure in an internal memo to staff Wednesday, alerting them to a pending New York Times article that she said is likely to “spark emotions.”
That article is expected to focus on Weakland’s soon-to-be released book, “A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop,” which publisher Wm. B. Eerdmans says “describes with poignant honesty” the archbishop’s “psychological, spiritual and sexual growth.”
“Some will be angry about the book,” which is expected to be released this summer, Wolf said in the memo to staff.
“But others will support it,” Wolf said Thursday. “There are varying opinions about Archbishop Weakland, about his tenure here and everything that took place prior to his retirement.”
Weakland, who served as Milwaukee archbishop beginning in 1977, retired abruptly in 2002 after it was revealed that he had paid $450,000 to a man who accused him of date rape in 1979. In 1998, the man, Paul Marcoux, attempted to extort $1?million from Weakland in exchange for a love note the archbishop had written years earlier, according to court records.
The retired archbishop is a key witness in a series of civil lawsuits against the archdiocese brought by people who say they were victims of clergy sex abuse. In a deposition released in November, Weakland admitted that he transferred priests with a history of sexual misconduct back into churches without alerting parishioners, that he did not report alleged abuses to law enforcement authorities, that some incriminating mental health records were destroyed and that bishops spoke in code in correspondence discussing abusers who had been moved outside their diocese.
Wolf said there is no truth to rumors that Weakland is being mandated by the Vatican to move. She said he was invited by the abbey, where he spent a sabbatical in the late 1990s; that the harsh Wisconsin winters were taking their toll; and that the aging Weakland wanted to be closer to family on the East Coast.
Weakland is expected to leave Milwaukee in mid-June and be settled in Morristown by July 1.
St. Mary’s monks work as teachers and administrators at Delbarton School, an elite college-preparatory school for boys; as chaplains for convents of religious women; and as pastors and weekend assistants in parishes around northern New Jersey, according to its Web site.
Asked Thursday whether he would work in any of the abbey’s missions, Weakland said only: “I’m 82.”