‘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.

68 responses to “‘We did not know that child abuse was a crime,’ says retired Catholic archbishop”

  1. Danielle D says:

    Don't buy the book – isn't it standard in most states that criminals aren't allowed to profit from the products of their crimes? While this SOB hasn't been convicted, refusing to buy the book is the least we can do to punish this asshole? If anyone can find the intended publisher of this "memoir", perhaps a flood of letters questioning the wisdom of publishing the memoirs of a sexual criminal might be helpful?

  2. Elisa says:

    This man is the reason so many hate the Catalolic Church priests! I am so relieved he is not in the church anymore. I am concerned now….especialy with the church alowing girls to be alter servers now…..
    Will we be hearing about them being molested in 10, 20 years later? Parents need to find time to talk with their children more one-on-one. Ask questions, interact more wtih their children.

  3. Mary T Hess says:

    Wide spread abuse has been going on throughtout time,One has to wonder why the church did nothing to protect these people.I guess you can understand my strong distaste for any religion. If you stop and think about it even the prayers can be some what demeaning to a persons. First of the church states that we were born in sin, then we are to get on our knees and thank him for the insult

  4. Rodent says:

    This is hilarious in a horrible fashion.

  5. fitzroyalty says:

    I feel the same way about beating priets with baseball bats.

  6. Yvete Doll says:

    "who also failed in their responsibility and didn't want to "rock the boat" by pursuing charges at the time either. "

    Same problem today, why can't the 2,000 teachers referred to List 99 in 2005 be named?

  7. JSutton says:

    "Naive." What a lovely way to portray the mindset of a child abuser.

  8. Kelly says:

    Check out the stats on policemen and fireman – it's the same. And you thought that they were such nice guys. Also, there are the lesser published accounts on teachers (much higher percentage rates than in the Catholic Church) abusing children. These teachers have been swapped from school district to school districts by principles and school superintendents fearing lawsuits – thereby giving favorable reviews. Go after them kpd because they're right in your neighborhood!!!!

  9. Kelly – do you have any evidence for the above claims?

    Let's see it.

  10. […] ‘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. […]

  11. farmgirl says:

    An agnostic in training, I am shocked and saddened by the anger and vitriol contained in the preceding posts. A Christian institution 'survivor' I have little understanding of the anger that is being directed at Christianity. As a counselor of sexual offenders, I wholly understand the revulsion towards the abuse of our children.
    However, it is the likely truth that the former Archbishop did not understand that the moral evil he cites was a criminal act as no such understanding existed in law until recently. This is a shameful reflection on society as a whole, and cannot be dumped solely on the front steps of the catholic church or upon xtian institutions.

    Canadian law held some protection as early as 1890 for female children under the age of 12, and only in regards to sexual intercourse. Although the protection for female children was strengthened in 1978, it was not until the introduction of Bill C-15, in 1988 that protection was extended to boys and that other forms of sexual exploitation and touching were included. Shameful, yes. Does the blame though lie with the Catholic church, or the aforementioned, disgraced Father?

    A history of the more generalized abuse of children, as is referred to above, is no more enlightened.

    The following link outlines some of Canada's history in terms of laws protecting children from sexual abuse.:

    For a more general discussion of child abuse history, this article was excellent:

  12. eric says:

    went to catholic lectures adelaide south australia mon aitken regularly playing with zipper in front of everyone i said to women do you see it her reply yes but it's not my job to tell him not too just a small taste of life in the church can not recommend church to anyone

  13. Michael says:

    uh yes it does

  14. Michael says:


  15. JJC says:

    As a survivor of catholic school atrocities myself, all I can say is they will be judged by the God they claimed to represent.

  16. Giselle says:


    I second the call for cites showing your statistics. They’d best be from some reputable source, and not someone’s blog, some conservative talk show asshat, or the like. Real studies, comprised of real figures, compiled by professionals who have no axe to grind.

    There isn’t a single profession on the planet that does not have its share of child molesters, rapists, perverts or what have you. Why don’t you cite politicians? Or doctors? Or

    You just sound like someone with an axe to grind.

    What you’re conveniently overlooking in your zeal to tar and feather everyone whom you think is in an authority position (and I’ll almost guarantee you’re a stoner type who couldn’t hack it in school, btw) is this:

    The Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy as a qualification to be a religious leader.

    The Catholic Church has absolutely refused to change this policy despite strong pressure from the American Catholics, in particular, to do so. Ostensibly, any priest wishing to break this vow is asked to leave the priesthood.

    Therefore, *ostensibly*, the Catholic Church is governing itself and requiring a standard of sexual purity from its priests.

    INSTEAD, what this information shows is that the Church is not only not forcing its representatives to go by the stated rules, it has *also* been involved in a coverup of crime for *at least* decades, if not far longer.

    Name me one school, police department or fire department who has engaged in that scale of a coverup for that long, and I’ll spot you $20. Answer: You can’t. You also overlook every time that when those individuals get caught, they have paid the penalty for their crimes and lost their profession as well.

    In the case of the Catholic Church, the Church is not aware of the crimes, but is aiding and abetting criminals by relocating them and instituting a policy to help them cover their tracks…all the while promoting the image of the priests as trustworthy counselors and representatives of the faith.

    See the difference? No, didn’t think you could. But it’s there, anyway.

    And IMO, I hope this SOB and all his ilk are hung for eternity by whatever body part will hurt them the most. Claiming he didn’t know it was wrong…give me a break!

    But I did laugh at the ‘Rock of St. Peter’ comment. Good one. 😀

  17. Joe says:

    The entire Catholic Church is ONE organization and they ALL knew what was going on but instead chose to act like a WHOREHOUSE and try and get away with having their carnal pleasures and appearing moral on the outside. Now the Head of this MORALLY BANKRUPT organization has been shown also to be involved in covering up pediphiles for years.

    Catholic leaders soon will be seen as amongst the most corrupt people on earth alongside their Muslim bomb blasting Mullas who incite murder.

    This is the age of FREEDOM FROM CLERGY. Why do we need to think through another person’s mind instead of our own or listen to a Catholic priest or Mulla when we can investigate reality using Google and our own mind? We DON’T NEED PRIESTS AND MULLAS ANYMORE. Get rid of these corrupt parasites and pediphiles ONCE and for all and let’s use our own brain and think and learn for ourselves.

  18. Jenny says:

    The Catholic church preaches against abortion (next generation to abuse and steal from)when history has proven babies born in religious institutions between the nuns and priests were killed. I suppose they didn’t know that was a crime either.