Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Catholic World News News Feature

The case for canonical discipline of Archbishop Weakland June 17, 2009

In a strongly worded editorial that appears in the July edition of Catholic World Report, the monthly magazine's editor, George Neumayr, expresses shock and dismay that a retired American prelate is openly questioning Church teaching on homosexuality.

In his new autobiography, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, Archbishop Rembert Weakland acknowledges his own homosexual affairs, Neumayr notes. The archbishop resigned in disgrace after it was revealed that he has given $450,000 in archdiocesan funds to silence a young man who complained that the archbishop had exploited him; today he has the temerity to suggest that it is the Church's failure to accept homosexuality, rather than his own moral weakness, that made the blackmail possible. Moreover, in a recent interview with the New York Times, the retired Archbishop of Milwaukee suggests that the Church should give its approval to the "physical, genital expression" of same-sex partners. Neumayr remarks:

Weakland gave this interview to the Times, by the way, from the “Archbishop Weakland Center*, which houses the archdiocesan cathedral offices in downtown Milwaukee.” This small snapshot of episcopal decadence—an openly “gay” bishop spouting heresy while sitting in a diocesan office still named in his honor—would be amusing if it weren’t so sad and scandalous.

Rather than continuing to show collegial deference to their retired colleague, Neumayr argues, the Church hierarchy should "end this disgusting farce and suspend Weakland's faculties."

The notion that an archbishop could be subject to public discipline is an unfamiliar one. But disciplinary action against a prelate is neither unprecedented nor unhealthy. Quite the contrary, when an archbishop voices open dissent from Church teaching on a highly contentious issue, the enormous influence that he wields makes him a special threat to the integrity of the faith. How can ordinary lay Catholics be expected to uphold the Church's stand on the immorality of homosexual acts, if such a prominent Catholic leader is voicing opposite opinions? So canon lawyer Edward Peters asks "what, if anything, will Rome finally do to vindicate the faithful against the appalling and on-going scandal of Abp. Rembert Weakland?"

If the Vatican does choose to take action, Peters points out, there is plenty of warrant for disciplinary measures under the Code of Canon Law. Canons 1369 calls for action against anyone who uses "published writings… to gravely injure good morals." If a retired prelate writes sympathetically about homosexual acts-- even disclosing that he himself engaged in those acts, and now feels the Church should accept them-- he is certainly threatening good morals. "That Weakland is an archbishop," Peters observes, "should not shield him from canonical investigation and punishment, but rather serves to underscore the need for his correction."

[*- Editor's note: The building is actually the Archbishop Cousins Center.]