MILWAUKEE — Hundreds of supporters, as well as advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse, attended retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s funeral, which was marked by an open acknowledgement of his mistakes.
Weakland, who died Aug. 22 at age 95, was a liberal voice in the Catholic church and led the Milwaukee Archdiocese for 25 years before stepping down after a theology student said he had been paid $450,000 in 1997 to settle a sexual assault claim against Weakland.
Weakland maintained the contact was consensual, but he also admitted in 2008 that he had shredded copies of sex abuse documents and moved sexually abusive priests from parish to parish without warning churchgoers.
Father Steven Avella, who presided over Tuesday’s funeral, recognized Weakland’s past.
“Hanging over this particular funeral are the memories of his mistakes, which were there for everyone to see. Some were personal to him, others shared by his fellow bishops and priests. We are grateful for the time he spent with us,” Avella said. “Many of us loved him, and some did not.”
Avella said leadership comes with the burden of accountability. “For us here in Milwaukee, these things still need to work themselves out. Grief and anger have no timetable. Neither do forgiveness and reconciliation.”
Weakland’s supporters told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they were praying for forgiveness and mercy. Some remembered him as a priest who built bridges and helped the outcast. As Milwaukee’s archbishop, he championed an expanded role for women in the church. Advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse said Weakland, a Benedictine monk, did not deserve a public funeral because he helped cover up abuse.
John Pilmaier, an advocate for survivors, said Weakland should be remembered for “the harm he caused.”
“This is really a day of shame for the archbishop and the archdiocese,” he said.