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Lawrence Murphy, William Cousins, Rembert Weakland and the Sedevacantism of Alex Gibney: Part 2

 Part 2: 1975 to 1993

Weakland succeeds Cousins

When Rembert Weakland succeeded William Cousins as Archbishop of Milwaukee in 1977, they did not discuss priests who had abused children.

Out of 500 and some priests, that wasn’t the problem we were dealing with. The problem frankly we were dealing with was alcoholism and the two we found out later [page 92 begins] were connected, there’s no doubt, but the major issue among clergy at the time was not on the radar screen, this question of the sex abuse of children, so it’s not something we would have discussed. It would have been seen as individual cases, but even then Archbishop Cousins never talked about them with me. (1)

Cousins lived nearby in Oconomowoc for ten years, so he was available for consultation. However, even after Weakland became aware of clerical sex offenders, he never discussed them with Cousins.(2)

After becoming Archbishop, Weakland began to have homosexual affairs with several men, one of whom blackmailed him.  Weakland paid him personally, and eventually authorized Archdiocesan lawyers to settle a lawsuit filed by his ex-lover with a payout of $450,000.00 from Archdiocesan funds.(3)  News of this became public shortly after he had submitted his resignation at the mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2002.(4) Seven years later, in an autobiography, he admitted continuing inclinations to homosexual relationships throughout his life and denounced Catholic teaching that homosexual tendencies and conduct are objectively disordered. “Those are bad words,” he said, “because they are so pejorative.”(5)

Weakland considered himself and was considered by others to be a “progressive.”(6) In 1986, a Chicago Tribune commented that he was “cultivating a reputation as the nation`s boldest bishop.”  Weakland told the Tribune reporter that “[h]is religious profession and breadth of experience in world affairs” gave him “a ‘certain independence’ of thought and action.”(7) He was widely known as a critic of the Vatican, considered by some to be “one of the most outspoken representatives of an innovative breed of American Catholic leaders”(8)

Boulder Junction: 1975-1993

Returning to Murphy, Archbishop Cousins confirmed his “informal assignment” in Boulder Junction on 29 October, 1975, and his “leave of absence” was extended the following month.(9)

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has claimed that Archbishop Cousins placed restrictions on Murphy and advised the Bishop of Superior of them when Murphy was sent to Boulder Junction, though it could not find a record of them.(10) Archbishop Weakland later testified that he became aware of the allegations against Murphy after arriving in Milwaukee in 1977, and, because of the “turmoil” in the deaf community, he had forbidden Murphy to come to Milwaukee to say mass, and that this was “on the books.”(11)

Nothing of the sort is found among documents about the Murphy case posted on the New York Times website,(12) but it is possible that the lawyers gave the paper only a selection of their documents, or that the New York Times was selective in its postings. However if Murphy was not permitted to say mass in Milwaukee, there is no evidence that Weakland formally restricted Murphy in any other way until at least the fall of 1993.  Moreover, the two pastors at St. Anne’s parish in Boulder Junction whom Murphy assisted for 18 years were told nothing about restrictions on his priestly activities.(13)

1977-78: another allegation

Murphy continued to function as a priest in Boulder Junction. Among his roles, he acted as chaplain at Lincoln Hill School for Boys, a juvenile detention centre.  Donald Marshall was then an adolescent inmate there.  He alleges that when he was 13 or 14 years old, in 1977-1978, Murphy sexually assaulted him.  He immediately reported the incident, and was told by the superintendent that similar complaints had been made previously.  The superintendent said that Murphy’s superiors would be advised, and he would never be let back into the institution.(14)   It appears that the superintendent was as good as his word, as Marshall did not see Murphy there again.

The assault was not reported to the local police, perhaps because the superintendent would have had difficulty explaining why Murphy had continued to be allowed access to juvenile inmates despite complaints against him.(15) Archbishop Weakland was Murphy’s superior, since Murphy was still attached to the Milwaukee Archdiocese, but it is unlikely the superintendent would have been aware of that.  We do not know if, in fact, the juvenile detention authorities contacted Archbishop Weakland or the Bishop of Superior.

We can be sure, however, that the superintendent did not contact Archbishop Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, who  was in Cracow, Poland, or Father Joseph Ratzinger, who was the Vice President of  the University of Regensbug in Bavaria, or even “the Vatican.”

1979: Weakland conceals offences by Effinger

In 1979, back in Milwaukee, after being told of a sexual assault on a minor by Fr. Wiliam Effinger, Weakland advised the victim’s family that it would be in the boy’s interests to keep the matter quiet.  He assured them that he would never put Effinger in a position where he could harm children again.  Despite a second complaint about the priest received about the same time, Weakland later appointed him as an associate pastor, and deliberately withheld information from the parish about his previous offences.  Effinger continued to assault children.(16) We will hear about him again later in the Murphy saga.

1980: Weakland conceals Murphy’s past

By the summer of 1980 Weakland was attempting to break off his homosexual affair with the man who later blackmailed him.(17) Murphy was effectively acting as an assistant pastor at St. Anne’s Church in Boulder Junction, as well as Presque Isle and Sayner.  In July, Raphael Fliss, the Coadjutor Bishop of Superior, talked to Weakland about Fr. Murphy’s pastoral activities and his desire to return to ministry with the deaf community in Milwaukee. Fliss was obviously ignorant of the reasons for Murphy’s presence in Boulder junction, and Weakland did not enlighten him.  Instead, he merely left him “with the impression that it would not be advisable at this time.”(18)

Apparently puzzled, but still in the dark about Murphy’s past, Fliss wrote to Fr. Joseph Janicki, Vicar for Personnel for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, asking him to call him to pursue the question.  Fliss  believed that Murphy had “a great deal to offer, especially in the area of the deaf apostolate.”(19)

All of this indicates that Weakland had kept the reasons for Murphy’s departure from the Bishop of Superior, and was continuing to do so.(20) It also suggests that he was less than forthcoming in a sworn deposition given in 2008.  When asked if he was aware that Murphy was working outside of Milwaukee, he replied, “I think he was permitted to say mass in the parish church where he was living.”(21)

1981: Weakland asks Bishop of Superior to incardinate Murphy

On 13 May, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot by Mehmet Ali Aðca. He was still recovering from the assassination attempt three months later, when the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee wrote to the Bishop of Superior and asked him to consider taking Murphy on as a priest of the Diocese of Superior.(22) It seems that the answer was “no,” since Murphy continued to be incardinated in Milwaukee.

Cardinal Ratzinger became the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in November.  By the end of 1981 it was still Weakland, not “the Vatican,” who knew about Murphy’s past and had the power to suspend him immediately.(23)  Weakland did nothing.

1984: Weakland threatens whistleblowers

1984 was a busy year for Pope John Paul II, with trips to Asia, Switzerland and Canada and the publication of his apostolic letter on the Christian meaning of suffering.  Cardinal Ratzinger issued a commentary on liberation theology. In Milwaukee, a new Salvatorian pastor moved into the rectory at Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Milwaukee, accompanied by two other Salvatorian priests.  Fr. Dennis Pecore was one of them.

Pecore began to associate closely with a young adolescent boy.  Fr. Bruce Brentrup, principal of the parish school, expressed his concern to three lay teachers about boys being invited into the rectory and being in Pecore’s room. The teachers wrote to Weakland to warn him about the activity.  Weakland, in response, threatened that “any libellous material found in your letter will be scrutinized carefully by our lawyers.”(24)

The Salvatorian pastor dismissed Fr. Brentrup, and the three teachers were pressured into resigning in the fall.(25) Pecore was, in fact, sexually molesting the boy and continued to do so until 1986, when the boy, despite opposition from a school social worker, disclosed the matter to his parents and the police.(26)

1986: Weakland extends Murphy’s term at Boulder Junction

In the middle of 1986, Weakland extended Murphy’s term at Boulder Junction for six years, without restrictions.(27)  The scope of Murphy’s work in the area is reflected in a later letter from Fr. Irving Meyette, who said that Murphy “supervised school religious programs, heard confessions and conducted confirmation retreats,” and that Murphy’s “success with youth” was well-known locally.(28)

1987: Weakland uses confidentiality clause to conceal sexual abuse settlement

While Murphy continued, with Weakland’s approval, to work without restrictions, news of the charge against Fr. Pecore became public, and the Archdiocese was sued by the three teachers and the former school principal, Fr. Brentrup, who had warned Weakland about Pecore’s activities.(29) The teachers’ suits were dismissed because the documents they had been persuaded to sign when leaving the school indicated that they were leaving voluntarily.(30)

Fr. Brentrup’s suit was dismissed for what, in retrospect, is a more interesting reason.  While the judge commented that, like the teachers, he had left “voluntarily,” he added that he had no jurisdiction to hear the case because Fr. Brentrup’s leaving the school was an internal Church matter.(31)

What happened is that the judge invoked the constitutional legal principle known as the “ministerial exemption” which prohibits secular courts from interfering in the hiring and firing of ministers of religion. The exemption was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in 2011,(32) but, during the argument preceding the decision, Justice Sotomayer, wondered about the extent of the exemption.  She asked, “How about a teacher who reports sexual abuse to the government and is fired because of that  reporting?”(33)

The question was posed as an hypothetical problem, but in 1987 it was not hypothetical for Fr. Brentrup.  Despite the outcome of the civil suits, there is no question that Fr. Brentrup and the three teachers acted properly.  The same cannot be said of Weakland, whose response to their concerns drew criticism from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals:

Archbishop Weakland, in the letter responding to claims, was cavalierly insensitive to what the record discloses were legitimate and responsible actions on the part of the appellants concerning the sexual misconduct of Father Pecore.(34)

The Archdiocese quickly settled with the victim and his family out of court,(35) but Weakland demanded a confidentiality clause to keep the terms of the agreement secret, despite the family’s strong objection to it.  This was successfully challenged by the Milwaukee Journal, which published details of the settlement in May, 1988,(36) as well as the victim’s story of the abuse under the headline, “Youth says priest’s acts were betrayal.”(37)

1988: Weakland questions “innocence” of sexual assault victims

Three weeks later, Weakland published Pedophilia and the Clergy in the Archdiocesan newspaper, including the following comment that seems to have been directed at Pecore’s victim:

Sometimes not all adolescent victims are so ‘innocent.’ Some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise. (We frequently try such adolescents for crimes as adults at that age.)  Pastorally, such cases are difficult to treat; we must not imply that the abuser is not guilty of a serious crime, but we could easily give a false impression that any adolescent who becomes sexually involved with an older person does so without any degree of personal responsibility.(38)

The column elicited sharp criticism from Circuit Judge John F. Foley and another correspondent, but Weakland qualified his remarks only by insisting that he had been talking about adolescents who complained of abuse – not children.(39)

Six years later, Weakland was, if anything, even more convinced of the culpability of adolescent victims.  It was his view that “true pedophilia among priests is rare.”

Instead, most of the priests who had trouble were attracted to teenage boys, he said – relationships he referred to as ‘affairs.’ “What happens so often in those cases is that they go on for a few years and then the boy gets  little older and the perpetrator loses interest.” Weakland told a reporter.  “Then is when the squealing comes in and you have to deal with it.”(40)

1989: Project Benjamin

As a result of criticism generated by his comments about adolescent victims, Weakland formed “Project Benjamin,” an Archdiocesan initiative intended to assist everyone affected by the sexual abuse of children: the victim, their families, the offenders and the parishes.  The news report referred to the comments he had made on the subject:

Weakland also said in one of those columns that he believed that priests involved in pedophilia, the preference for having sex with children, should not be involved in the active ministry.  But it was difficult to convince the Vatican of that, he said.

“Rome always takes the side of a priest who is involved in a dispute with a bishop,” he said.  But he said that he expected that Rome would give bishops more latitude in handling such cases. He said that all priests involved in child abuse would not necessarily be reduced to a lay state, or even taken out of the parish ministry.  But he did say, “We tend to be ultra-cautious in such cases, and with good reason.”(41)

Since child sexual abuse was among the “foulest crimes” identified in Crimen Solicitationis, and bishops were obliged to begin canonical proceedings forthwith when it was reported,”(42) so it is difficult to credit Weakland’s assertion that it was difficult to persuade “the Vatican” to remove priests from ministry for sexually abusing children. Consistent with the comments in this news report, it does not appear that he made a practice of approaching “the Vatican” to have such priests laicized.

1993: Weakland accepts Murphy’s request to retire

Murphy had worked as a priest in Boulder Junction since arriving in 1974. In January, 1993 Weakland accepted his request for retirement.(43)  Years later, after Murphy’s past had been publicly exposed, the Bishop of Superior declined to accept any responsibility for his activities in the diocese, even though diocesan authorities were aware that he was functioning as a priest. He directed critics to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which offered no explanation.(44)

It would have been difficult to provide an explanation. Cousins, knowing that Murphy had sexually assaulted boys at the school, concealed his removal and departure as “sick leave” and appears to have lied under oath about the reason for his removal.  He either arranged for Murphy to disappear in order to obstruct civil proceedings, or he committed perjury by denying that he knew where he could be found. Weakland learned of the allegations against Murphy after becoming Archbishop in 1977, but, at least until 1980, he concealed them from the Bishop of Superior. Beyond forbidding him to say mass in Milwaukee, Weakland did nothing about Murphy’s activities or status for sixteen years.

During this whole period, there is no reason to believe that “the Vatican” knew anything about the situation, notwithstanding the two empty chairs Alex Gibney offers as proof to the contrary in Mea Maxima Culpa.

12 March, 2013


Next- Part 3: 1993


1.  Deposition of Archbishop Emeritus Rembert G. Weakland, O.S. B., 5-6 June, 2008. (Accessed 2013-02-26)

2.   Deposition of Archbishop Emeritus Rembert G. Weakland, O.S. B., 5-6 June, 2008. (Accessed 2013-02-26)

3.   Text of the settlement agreement between Paul J. Marcoux, Archbishop Rembert Weakland and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. (Accessed 2013-03-02)

4.   Goodstein, Laurie, “Rembert G. Weakland.” New York Times. (Accessed 2013-02-26)

5.   “The Fall and Grace of Archbishop Rembert Weakland.” Nihil Obstat, 21 May, 2009. (Accessed 2013-03-02)

6.   Murphy, Mary Beth, “Weakland says progressivism could keep him from top post.Milwaukee Sentinel, 8 November, 1986 (Accessed 2013-03-11)

7.   Buursma, Bruce, “Archbishop Asks Rome to Ease Up.Chicago Tribune, 28 September, 1986 (Accessed 2013-02-28)

8.   Steinfels, Peter, “Bishop Weakland, Critic of Vatican, Lends Women his Ear on Abortion.New York Times, 27 March, 1990 (Accessed 2013-03-11)

9.   Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Lawrence Murphy Chronology. (Accessed 2013-02-21)

10.   Zahn, Mary and Tom Heinen, “Priest who resigned amid abuse claims found a new life.Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2 February, 2002. (Accessed 2013-02-23)

11.   Deposition of Archbishop Emeritus Rembert G. Weakland, O.S. B., p. 56-57 (Accessed 2013-03-01)

12.   Goodstein, Laurie, “Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys.New York Times, 24 May, 2010. (Accessed 2013-02-28)

13.   Zahn, Mary and Tom Heinen, “Priest who resigned amid abuse claims found a new life.Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2 February, 2002. (Accessed 2013-02-23)

14.   CNN Larry King Live: Transcript of show aired 30 March, 2010. . ( Accessed 2013-02-26)

15.   Saulny, Susan and Laurie Goodstein, “Exiled Pedophile Priest May Have Continued Abuse.New York Times, , 2 April, 2010. (Accessed 2013-02-22)

16.   Cooperman, Alan.  “Wisconsin Archbishop kept silent on predator priest.” Washington Post, 14 April, 2002.  Weakland disputes the account of his conversation with the family. See Deposition of Archbishop Emeritus Rembert G. Weakland, O.S. B., 5-6 June, 2008, p. 266 ( Accessed 2013-02-2

17.   Excerpt from letter dated 25 August, 1980 from Rembert Weakland to Paul Marcoux.  New York Times,  24 May, 2002. (Accessed 2013-02-28)

18.   Letter dated 9 July, 1980 from Coadjutor Bishop Fliss to Rev. Joseph A. Janicki. (Accessed 2013-02-20)

19.   Letter dated 9 July, 1980 from Coadjutor Bishop Fliss to Rev. Joseph A. Janicki. (Accessed 2013-02-20)

20.   This conclusion is consistent with a statement by Bishop Fliss.  “I knew Father Murphy moved from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and when I came here at the end of 1979, I knew he was here,” said Superior Diocese Bishop Raphael Fliss.  He denied knowing the specific allegations against Murphy.  “Something was wrong, and he was relieved from Milwaukee and allowed to work here in the Diocese of Superior,” Fliss said. “I inherited him here doing good work.  The pastor with whom he worked was with him all the time, and I heard nothing wrong.” Zahn, Mary and Tom Heinen, “Priest who resigned amid abuse claims found a new life.Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2 February, 2002. (Accessed 2013-02-23)

21.   Deposition of Archbishop Emeritus Rembert G. Weakland, O.S. B., 5-6 June, 2008, p. 58 (Accessed 2013-02-26)

22.   Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Lawrence Murphy Chronology. (Accessed 2013-02-21)

23.   Deposition of Archbishop Emeritus Rembert G. Weakland, O.S. B., 5-6 June, 2008, p. 60 (Accessed 2013-02-26)

24.   The Wisconsin Court of Appeals criticized Weakland’s response to the teachers as ‘abrupt’ and ‘insensitive.’  Umhoefer, Dave, “Scandal casts new light on Weakland’s statements.Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6 May, 2002 (Accessed 2013-02-28)

25.   Berry, Jason, Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children. New York: Doubleday, 1992 (Illinois Paperback 2000), p. 306

26.   Rohde, Marie, “Youth says priest’s acts were betrayal.” Milwaukee Journal, 8 May, 1988 (Accessed 2013-02-28)

27.   Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Lawrence Murphy Chronology. (Accessed 2013-02-21)

28.   Hollingsworth, Jana, “Alleged abuse continued in Superior Diocese.” Duluth News Tribune, 26 March, 2010.  (Accessed 2013-02-23)

29.   Ward, Mark, “Weakland named in teachers’ suit.Milwaukee Journal, 12 May, 1987. (Accessed 2013-02-28); “Fired priest files suit against archdiocese.” Milwaukee Sentinel, 28 May, 1987. (Accessed 2013-02-28)

30.   Ward, Mark, “Suit by parish teachers who quit is dismissed.Milwaukee Journal, 24 August, 1987. (Accessed 2013-02-28)

31.   “Former principal’s suit dismissed.Milwaukee Journal, 1 October, 1987 (Accessed 2013-02-28)

32.   Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al, 565 U.S. (2012) (Accessed 2013-02-28)

33.   Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al, 565 U.S. (2012) Transcript of oral argument. p. 4-5 (Accessed 2013-02-28)

34.   Quoted in Isely, Peter and Jim Smith, The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Submitted February 10, 2004. (Accessed 2013-03-01)

35.   “Priest, parents of boy reach an agreement.Milwaukee Journal, 3 July, 1987 (Accessed 2013-02-28)

36.   Rohde, Marie, “$595,000 paid to settle priest’s case.” Milwaukee Journal, 6 May, 1988 (Accessed 2013-02-28)

37.   Rohde, Marie, “Youth says priest’s acts were betrayal.Milwaukee Journal, 8 May, 1988 (Accessed 2013-02-28)

38.   Weakland, Rembert, “Pedophilia and the Clergy.” The Catholic Herald, 26 May, 1988. Quoted in Berry, Jason, Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children. New York: Doubleday, 1992 (Illinois Paperback 2000), p. 307

39.   Berry, Jason, Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children.. New York: Doubleday, 1992 (Illinois Paperback 2000), p. 307, 395

40.   Umhoefer, Dave, “Scandal casts new light on Weakland’s statements.Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6 May, 2002 (Accessed 2013-02-28)

41.   Rohde, Marie, “Weakland unveils project to aid people affected by abuse.Milwaukee Journal, 17 May, 1989 (Accessed 2013-03-09)

42.   Office of the Sacred Congregation, Instruction On the Manner of Proceeding in Causes involving the Crime of Solicitation. 16 March, 1962, para. 2, 71-73. (Accessed 2013-09-12)

43.   Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Lawrence Murphy Chronology. (Accessed 2013-02-21)

44.   Catholic Diocese of Superior, Statement of the Diocese of Superior in Response to the 3/25/10 Duluth News Tribune Article. News Release, 25 March, 2010. (Accessed 2013-02-22)

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