War over Weakland is over

Weakland 3(An edited version of this Op Ed appeared in Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “Your Views”.)

War over Weakland is over

By Peter Isely

There was a weird phenomenon that persisted for decades after the surrender of imperial Japan to the allies in 1945 that became known in popular Japanese culture as “nipponhei” or “holdouts”.  Naponhei were Japanese soldiers who either adamantly refused to believe that Japan had lost the war and continued to fight, or were so cut off from communications on remote islands in the Pacific that they never received the news.  The last confirmed nipponhei was one Hiroo Onodoa who lived in the jungles of the Philippines were he successfully evaded what he thought was capture for almost 30 years.  When Onodoa finally marched out of the jungle and formally surrendered he was wearing an immaculately kept dress uniform.  He was age 52.

As a survivor of childhood sexual assault by a priest of the Milwaukee archdiocese, it is astonishing to read Todd Robert Murphy’s strange nipponhei like revisionist history of Archbishop Rembert Weakland (“A reappraisal of Archbishop Rembert Weakland”).

No one seems to have told Murphy that for nearly 25 years Weakland planned, directed and implemented a wide spread and systematic cover up of sex crimes against children by dozens of Catholic priests and religious clerics.  Weakland’s record is one of the best documented in the entire history of the now global sex abuse crisis in the church, including tens of thousands of pages of recently court ordered released pages of internal church files, hundreds of hours of depositions of top church officials (including Weakland) and serial offenders, and the direct testimony, reports or admissions of what must now be well over 1,000 victims, among them 200 deaf youngsters by the infamous Fr. Lawrence Murphy.  That number is likely a fraction of the actual total, since most victims of childhood rape and sexual assault never come forward and report the crime.

A few years ago, I received a call from a survivor of one of these predator priests that Weakland shuffled and sheltered around the archdiocese.  He had a brother, let’s call him Michael, who was also molested by the same priest.  Michael had just gone to the local Catholic cemetery to visit his mother’s grave. Michael also took his grandfather’s shotgun with him.  He took his life, on his mother’s grave.  The body, I was told, could only be identified because a business card from the archdiocese was found on his person.  Michael, for whatever reason, had seeking some kind of help or relief from the archdiocese.  The priest who assaulted Michael was known by Weakland and his second in charge, Bishop Richard Sklba, to have been a child sex offender.

I would like to say that Michael’s case is unusual.  It’s not.  Two of my classmates assaulted by the same priest who assaulted me, Capuchin Fr. Gale Leifeld, have since taken their lives. One on Christmas Eve under a lonely freeway underpass.  Again, a shotgun.  Leifeld was also known by Weakland to have sexually assaulted youngsters.

That is why the just resolution of the almost 600 victim/survivor cases currently in federal court in Milwaukee should be Murphy’s and every Milwaukee Catholic’s first concern, not recycling by proxy his publicly discredited, self-serving and thoroughly fictitious defense of himself.  The war to end the interminable court battle against these survivors by Weakland’s successor, Jerome Listecki, would be a good place to start.

As for Weakland’s “legacy” that Murphy is so keen on trying to resurrect and revise, according to victim’s attorneys, there are well over 8,000 alleged criminal acts by at least 144 alleged clerical offenders against children that have taken place in the Milwaukee Archdiocese that have been reported to the court.  Most of these crimes occurred when the archdiocese was under the control of one man: Rembert Weakland.

In fact, Weakland knew there were so many priests assaulting children under his supervision that, according to his 2008 deposition, he never informed parishes with offender priests assigned, or at one time assigned to them, because, as he put it, that would entail notifying “nearly all” of the 300 parishes of the archdiocese and presumably, that’s the only job he would have been doing.

The only decent thing left for Weakland and his few remaining followers to do is the one thing Weakland has not done:  to apologize and keep apologizing.

Weakland has never apologized publically to victim/survivors and our families.  Apologizing for getting caught in sexual misconduct with an adult and for taking nearly $450,000 in church funds to hush it up after being exposed in the national media is not an apology for routinely transferring and concealing child molesters.

Weakland has never apologized for his written remarks in the Catholic newspaper that not all child victims of priests “are so innocent” and that some victims are “street wise and savvy.” He never apologized for his later interview with the Milwaukee Journal where he opines that once a priest loses sexual interest in a child “the squealing starts” and “you have to deal with it.” He has never apologized as to why he commissioned a bronze relief of himself in the cathedral, which is still there, depicting himself in the place of Christ shepherding little children, when the reality was hundreds, maybe thousands, of children were sexually assaulted and raped, their lives destroyed under his watch.

Weakland could apologize for taking $.1.5 million dollars from the Archdiocese supporting fund and having two academic chairs named after him in the Benedictine College in Rome, one ironically titled the “Rembert Weakland Chair in Social Justice,” when so little justice and compensation has been provided to survivors.  And he could apologize for going after victims with court costs after a controversial Wisconsin Supreme Court decision bared any lawsuits against sex offender clergy or bishops as a violation of the 1st Amendment.  Weakland was ready to garnish wages and put liens on homes, even when the priest had admitted to Weakland he had sexually assaulted the plaintiff as a child and had been transferred into that child’s parish with a prior history of criminal acts.

The wars over Weakland supposed “progressive” theology and liturgical practices are long over. Whatever liberal and conservative battles were fought concerning him have faded into quaint insignificance compared the legacy of pain and anguish he has left for survivors and families to carry.

Is it a surprise that in Murphy’s cave we don’t hear Michael and the voices of those survivors and our families?  Albert Camus once said that history is most often written by those who make history, not those who suffer from it.  For some, like Michael, history was simply too much to bear.  What justice requires is not that Weakland’s history be revised but that Michael’s finally be written.

Peter Isely is a survivor of childhood sexual assault by a religious order priest of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, the Midwest Director of SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School.  

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Under oath whistleblower challenges Archbishop Nienstedt over abuse testimony

613px-Cathedral_of_St._Paul_9From Minnesota Public Radio


By Madeleine Baran


Whistleblower Jennifer Haselberger, whose revelations of a clergy sexual abuse cover-up have rocked the Twin Cities archdiocese for the past 10 months, disputed the sworn testimony of Archbishop John Nienstedt in a damning 107-page affidavit filed as part of an abuse lawsuit Tuesday.

In her sworn statement, the former archdiocese chancellor also accused top church leaders of a “cavalier attitude” towards the safety of children, and contradicted sworn testimony by former top church deputies Peter Laird and Kevin McDonough and archdiocese attorney Andrew Eisenzimmer.

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Betrayed by Silence: How three archbishops hid the truth

From Minnesota Public Radio


By Madeleine Baran

priest-collar-3001For decades, the archbishops who led the Catholic archdiocese in the Twin Cities maintained that they were doing everything they could to protect children from priests who wanted to rape them.

Reporters picked up those assurances and repeated them without question. Police and prosecutors took the assurances at face value. Parents believed the assurances and trusted priests with their children.

But the assurances were a lie, and the archbishops knew it. Three of them — John Roach, Harry Flynn (pictured above) and John Nienstedt — participated in a cover-up that pitted the finances and power of the church against the victims who dared to come forward and tell their stories.

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An Open Communication to Archbishop Rembert Weakland, O.S.B.

An Open Communication to Archbishop Rembert Weakland, O.S.B. 

Dear Archbishop Weakland, 

The plan of some priests to hold a farewell luncheon for you on July 17th has caused pain and suffering for victims / survivors of clergy sexual abuse. 

In short, the pain and suffering are found in the apparent desire of the priests to pay tribute to you even though victims / survivors still seek from you a resolution to your handling of sexual abuse cases. As noted in your depositions of 2008 and 2011, you were willing to transfer known abuser priests to other parishes, and you did not see to it that the parishioners were advised about allegations against any priest serving in their parish. Truth was missing and protection of children was lacking. 

For the victims / survivors, the sexual abuse has permanently changed the trajectory of their lives. Thus, the need for expressions of remorse and for a commitment to healing also is permanent.  

Now, however, before you depart from Milwaukee, you have an opportunity to help relieve some of the pain felt by victims / survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Hence, I ask you to do a few things. 

First, cancel the luncheon on July 17. 

Next, publicly acknowledge your personal responsibility for your actions and omissions that did not protect children as you could have and should have done, and then apologize. 

Finally, as a farewell gift from you to the people of the archdiocese, ask Archbishop Jerome Listecki to remove your name from all archdiocesan buildings on which your name now appears. 

Thank you. 

Fr. Jim Connell

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Weakland heading home, leaving complex legacy in Milwaukee

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


By Annysa Johnson

Retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, a once-towering figure who diminished his legacy by his handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in southeastern Wisconsin and his own sex scandal, is returning in old age to the Benedictine abbey where he began his religious life more than 70 years ago.

Weakland, 87 and increasingly frail, has told friends he will be moving by Sept. 1 from his Milwaukee condo to the St. Vincent Archabbey, a community of monks in Latrobe, Pa., about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

A group of local priests is planning a farewell luncheon in July, an event that is already drawing criticism from abuse survivors.

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Judge rules she can’t OK archdiocese reorganization plan

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


By Annysa Johnson



U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley ruled Friday that she does not have jurisdiction to approve the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s reorganization plan while key questions in a related lawsuit over $60 million it holds in trust for the maintenance of cemeteries are pending before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The decision is a victory for the creditors committee, which had sought to block approval of the plan until the appellate judges rendered their decision — a process some have said could take a year. And it has forced the cancellation of the October confirmation hearings, at least for now — a setback for the archdiocese.

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Ex-archdiocesan official contradicts Nienstedt’s sworn testimony over abuse claim

From Minnesota Public Radio


By Madeleine Baran

Cathedral of St. Paul (courtesy of wikimedia commons)

A former top official of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis contradicted Archbishop John Nienstedt’s account of how top officials responded to a sexual abuse claim against a Catholic priest, according to sworn testimony made public today.

The Rev. Peter Laird described the flurry of decisions made in June 2012 when the chancery learned that the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer had been accused of sexually abusing a child. Laird said he kept Nienstedt informed of the situation as it unfolded, according to a transcript of his May 12, 2014 deposition released by victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson. Nienstedt has said under oath that he did not talk to Laird.

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Clergy abuse victims are divided over Pope Francis’s offer to meet

From the Religion News Service


By David Gibson

Vatican at night 2 (photo courtesy of wikimedia commons)(RNS) Pope Francis’ announcement this week that he would meet with victims of sexual abuse by priests is dividing victim advocates, with some dismissing the move as “meaningless” and others endorsing it as a positive step, albeit taken belatedly and under pressure.

“A welcome and overdue change,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, a prominent activist pushing the Catholic Church to overhaul its policies and practices on clergy abuse.

“Good to hear Pope Francis speak out and meet survivors,” tweeted Marie Collins, an abuse victim whom Francis named to a Vatican commission to promote reforms, on hearing that the pope compared clergy abuse to a priest celebrating a black Mass.

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Pope Francis will meet with clergy sex abuse victims…but at least one group is skeptical

From Fox 6 news


By Brandon Cruz

Video Link

St. Peter's Square at the Vatican (photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons)MILWAUKEE (WITI) — Pope Francis says he has “zero tolerance” for any clergy member who violates a child. On Monday, May 26th — it was announced that Pope Francis has agreed to meet with a group of clergy sexual abuse victims early next month. At least one group says the move by the pope isn’t enough.

Pope Francis is expected to meet with a group of victims of clergy sexual abuse at the Vatican.

Peter Isley — the Midwest Director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (or SNAP) says he’s skeptical.

“(The victims) are hand-selected by the Vatican. We don’t know who they are. Our organization has not been contacted. We weren’t invited. We weren’t asked,” Isley said.

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Pope to meet with Victims

Pope to Meet with Victims

Statement by Anne Barrett Doyle

May 27, 2014

Swiss Guards (photo courtesy of wikimedia commons)Pope Francis’s announcement that he soon will meet with victims of clergy sexual abuse is a welcome and overdue change. As Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the Pope refused to meet with victims of clergy abuse, and Benedict XVI’s brief and scripted meetings with victims were theatrical. Will Francis’s meeting with survivors be different? Will he open himself to be changed deeply by them, or will he use the encounter to promote the Church’s current message, i.e., that no institution has done more good than the Church in this area?

We’ll know which it will be by three signs.  We’ll have some reason for hope if: 1) Activists and strong public critics are included in the guest list, 2) Before the meeting, action is taken to remove complicit bishops, to declare reporting to civil authorities a blanket church requirement, and to respond honestly to the UN calls for transparency and responsibility, and 3) the format for the meeting includes a frank and open press conference afterward, where differences can be publicly aired.

But Francis’s record in Argentina is not encouraging.  Before he was pope, he “had declined to meet with victims of sexual abuse, according to the victims and a spokesman for the Buenos Aires archdiocese,” reported the Wall Street Journal last year.

More troubling, as cardinal, Francis showed a convicted priest exactly the kind of preferential treatment that he decried in his Monday interview.  In 2010, he mounted a behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit the young victims of a famous priest recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for child molestation. Then-cardinal Bergoglio’s role in the case of Father Julio César Grassi was first revealed in 2011 in the Argentine news outlets Clarín and Página/12 and was confirmed after he became pope in articles in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and National Catholic Reporter.

The pope was Argentina’s most powerful Catholic leader from 1998 to 2013, a time when church officials in the US and Europe addressed the epidemic of child sexual abuse by priests, and even Popes John Paul II and Benedict made public statements. Yet the record shows that Bergoglio stayed silent, releasing no information and rarely mentioning the crisis. He released no abuse documents, no names of accused priests, no tallies of accused priests, no policy for handling abuse, not even an apology to victims.

In On Heaven and Earth, a book of conversations between the pope and a rabbi that was published in English in 2013, Francis even denied that the problem existed in his archdiocese:  ”In my diocese it never happened to me, but a bishop called me once by phone to ask me what to do in a situation like this …”

But the cardinal is now the pope. And while his record discourages optimism, it is conceivable that Pope Francis will allow himself to be radicalized by his meeting with survivors. If Pope Francis invites challenging critics to the meeting and pairs it with substantive remedies — for example, the release of the names and files of clerics who have been disciplined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — the event will have proved to be a turning point. There will be reason to hope that the pope is beginning to accept both the terrible and ongoing reality of this crisis and his responsibility for solving it.

About BishopAccountability.org

Founded in 2003 and based near Boston, Massachusetts, USA, BishopAccountability.org is a large online archive of documents, reports, and news articles documenting the global abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. In 2013, its website was visited by 1.3 million unique visitors. An independent non-profit, it is not a victims’ advocacy group and is not affiliated with any church, reform, or victims’ organization.

Contact for BishopAccountability.org

Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director, BishopAccountability.org, barrett.doyle@comcast.net, 781-439-5208 cell
Terence McKiernan, President and Co-Director, BishopAccountability.org, mckiernan1@comcast.net, 508-479-9304


See also a comprehensive analysis of the pope’s record in Argentina and a detailed summary of his role in the Grassi case.

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