Archbishop denies report of sexual abuse allegation

Friday, May 24, 2002

MILWAUKEE -- Archbishop Rembert Weakland acknowledged Thursday he paid a settlement to a man who accused him of sexually assaulting more than 22 years ago. He denied ever molesting anyone, but asked the Vatican to expedite the resignation he submitted earlier this year.

The archbishop's accuser, Paul Marcoux, received a $450,000 settlement. He said he was drunk when Weakland attempted to assault him in October 1979, but he did not go to police because two priests advised him not to.

Marcoux, now 53, was a Marquette University theology student at the time. He said Weakland seemed infatuated with him and later made sexual advances which he brushed aside.

In a statement, Weakland denied the claims. "I have never abused anyone. I have not seen Paul Marcoux for more than 20 years," he said.

Weakland's words came after ABC News first reported that he agreed in 1998 to pay Marcoux under a legal settlement, though Marcoux had not sued the archbishop.

"Because I accept the agreement's confidentiality provision, I will make no comment about its contents," Weakland said.

Weakland, who recently adopted a zero tolerance policy toward abusive priests, has been archbishop since 1977 and is considered the leading liberal voice among American church leaders. He reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in April and is awaiting the Vatican's appointment of a new leader.

In his statement, he said the accusation would be a distraction and asked Rome to replace him as soon as possible.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Marcoux said he first met Weakland in September 1979 at a dinner organized by a local Catholic leader. Soon after, Marcoux said he called the archbishop to discuss the priesthood.

The night of the alleged assault, Oct. 11, 1979, Marcoux said he and Weakland had cocktails and a couple of bottles of wine with dinner, then drove back to Weakland's home where the archbishop invited him to come upstairs. Marcoux said Weakland then tried to rape him.

Marcoux said Weakland made lesser advances three to five times over the next year. Marcoux said he continued spending time with Weakland because he was interested in becoming a priest in Milwaukee.

"It was flattering to have the Archbishop of Milwaukee -- regarded as a progressive, intelligent bishop -- interested in me," Marcoux said. "I realized how much in love he was and how obsessed he was with me ... but I was not interested in a romantic relationship with him."

Ultimately, Marcoux said, he sought advice from a cousin and a friend, both priests. But they advised him not to go the police: Marcoux said he now regrets he did not do so.

Marcoux produced a letter, posted on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Web site, in which Weakland said he could not give more than $14,000 to Marcoux for a business project.

"I should not put down on paper what I would not want the whole world to read. But here goes anyway," the letter said.

"I felt like the world's worst hypocrite. So gradually I came back to the importance of celibacy in my life. ... Paul, I really have given you all I personally possess -- the $14,000 is really my personal limit."

The letter expressed Weakland's angst at not being able to maintain a relationship with Marcoux. The letter said Weakland felt he was not being honest with God and that he cried as he wrote it.

He ended the letter saying, "I love you."

Marcoux said Weakland gave him the $14,000 to help him develop a video and Christian retreat business called Christodrama, combining drama and spirituality, which he continues to run.

He also said he suffered from depression and wanted to discuss the alleged assault with Weakland and sent the archbishop a letter asking for a meeting in July 1997.

After being rebuffed, he consulted with lawyers who advised him to pursue a monetary settlement since the statute of limitations for criminal charges had run out.

"I tried to resolve this thing in a pastoral context," he said. "I would have been very happy to have done that."

Weakland said fees he has turned over to the archdiocese for speaking engagements over the years "far exceed any settlement amount." Marcoux said he went public after noting that several church leaders had released victims from their confidentiality agreements.

The archbishop has been under increasing criticism for how he dealt with a sexually abusive priest in 1979. In a recently released 1993 deposition, Weakland said he moved the Rev. William Effinger to a new church after the priest admitted molesting a 13-year-old boy.

The archbishop didn't acknowledge the allegations to parishioners until years later, after another abuse claim was made against Effinger.

Weakland, who issued a public apology in 1992 over the Effinger case, was booed last week by parishioners at "listening sessions" held to gauge response to the sex abuse scandal.

In April, with sex abuse scandals battering dioceses across the country, Weakland said the Milwaukee Archdiocese -- with 685,000 parishioners in southeastern Wisconsin -- would adopt a zero tolerance policy toward molestation by priests. The recommendation came from a commission he had appointed a month earlier.

The head of the commission, Marquette University Law School Dean Howard Eisenberg, said he learned of the settlement with Marcoux on Thursday.

"I want to cry and crawl under my bed," Eisenberg said. "It is very distressing to have these new things arise. They just erode all the work people have done to get over these problems."

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