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Shock Over Accusations in Milwaukee

By John W. Fountain, The New York Times
May 24, 2002

MILWAUKEE, May 23 — Shock mixed with outrage today as church leaders here learned of accusations of sexual misconduct against Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland.

"Can you believe this is happening?" asked the Rev. Jeff Thielen, 53, the pastor of St. Lucy Catholic Church in Racine. "I think all the bishops should quit. They should all quit and be replaced. The hurting has to stop. Someone's got to do better by all of the victims.

"I've been a priest since 1974. I almost wish I wasn't a priest. How can people stay Catholic in the face of this? It's unending."

Archbishop Weakland has denied accusations that he sexually assaulted a graduate student, Paul J. Marcoux, more than 20 years ago. But he has conceded that Mr. Marcoux, now 54, received a $450,000 settlement in 1998 in exchange for his silence.

Father Thielen, who happened to be at the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on routine business today, termed the matter a catastrophe for the church.

"You think of that money, $450,000, and they're closing schools, and there's homeless people on the street, and people aren't getting enough to eat," Father Thielen said. "How can you justify that? I just could cry."

Father Thielen wondered whether the accusations might explain Archbishop Weakland's response to claims of misconduct against other priests.

"Priests were transferred to other parishes and little kids got hurt that shouldn't have got hurt," Father Thielen said.. "He never should have done that.

"I was talking to one of the other pastors the other day, and he said that things aren't going to change until they start putting bishops in jail. That's what the priests are starting to think."

At St. Augustine of Hippo parish in Milwaukee, the news also hit hard, though Chiara Sainer, the church's pastoral minister, drew a distinction between this case and others involving the sexual abuse of children.

"It's a whole different thing than pedophilia," Ms. Sainer said. Still, she described the accusations as "a blow to all of us."

But Ms. Sainer expressed skepticism about Mr. Marcoux's claims, raising questions about his motives and posing the possibility that whatever happened between the two men may have been consensual.

"I have no doubt that it happened," Ms. Sainer said. But she added, referring to Mr. Marcoux: "There is definitely a difference. He was not a child himself. That all has to be put in perspective."

Paul Weisenberger, the director of liturgy at St. Augustine Church, said the accusations had left many Milwaukee Catholics angry, particularly regarding the settlement.

Archbishop Weakland, 75, has been planning to retire, and Mr. Weisenberger said there had been a number of parties to celebrate the archbishop's career.

Mr. Weisenberger said he had just returned this afternoon from a meeting with a number of people who said they attended a celebration on Wednesday night at a local church.

"They said it was just a wonderful thing last night," he said. "Then, all of a sudden to wake up this morning and see this on the news, it was a real jarring thing for them."

Father Thielen said he welcomed the news media attention this case and others involving the church have attracted.

"With all the things that are going on in the church," he said, "sunlight is the best disinfectant."


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests