‘We did not know that child abuse was a crime,’ says retired Catholic archbishop

YESTERDAY it was the damning report on abuse of children by Catholic institutions in Ireland.

Today we learn that a retired Catholic Archbishop in the US is claiming in a soon-to-be-published memoir that he did not comprehend the potential harm to young victims or understand that the priests had committed a crime.

Rembert G Weakland

Rembert G Weakland

Said Rembert G Weakland:

We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature.

Weakland, who retired in 2002 after it became known that he paid $450,000 in 1998 to a man who had accused him of date rape years earlier, said he initially:

Accepted naively the common view that it was not necessary to worry about the effects on the youngsters: either they would not remember or they would ‘grow out of it’.

Weakland’s critics allege that, when he was Archbishop of Milwaukee, he had tried to cover up some of the widespread abuse that had taken place in the diocese – in particular by overseeing an evaluation in 1993 of Father Lawrence Murphy, one of those prosecuted for abuse.

A 2003 report on the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee revealed that allegations of sexual assaults on minors had been made against 58 ordained men, who were under the direct supervision of the Archbishop of Milwaukee.

By early 2009, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee had spent approximately $26.5 million in attorney fees and settlements to victims.

Weakland’s words are contained in his memoir, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church – and have infuriated those who suffered at the hands of the clergy.

Said Peter Isely, Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP:

It’s beyond belief. He’s either lying or he’s so self-deceived that he’s inventing fanciful stories … These have always been crimes.

Weakland’s handling of the Milwaukee clergy sex abuse scandal is just one chapter in the wide-ranging memoir that recounts his childhood in the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania, his life as a Benedictine monk, his struggles with his own homosexuality, his strained relationship with Pope John Paul II and finally his public fall from grace in Milwaukee.