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The price of making a mistake

Rich Mayfield

Paul Marcoux is a liar. Let’s put that out front. He may also be a bully and an extortionist, but even he admits to going back on his word after accepting a $450,000 payoff from the archdiocese of Milwaukee to keep his mouth shut.

Marcoux was involved in a relationship with Archbishop Rembert Weakland more than 20 years ago that may or may not have been intimate. It was certainly confused and it caused the archbishop enough consternation that he broke it off in a letter to Marcoux back in 1980.

In that letter, Weakland reconfirmed his commitment to the celibate life and, in what may have been the impetus for a costly vendetta, told Marcoux that he could not allow church funds to be used to finance an apparently ill-proposed film project.

In any case, in 1998 a settlement was reached between the two parties that had Marcoux promising to keep quiet and Weakland handing over nearly a half a million dollars in diocesan money.

A plethora of tragedies present themselves here. Beginning with the question: How do we understand the archbishop’s terrible misuse of the well-intentioned offerings of his diocese’s parishioners? I can see little excuse for his action. It is certainly immoral if not illegal. But I also can’t help but sympathize with someone who, under immense pressure and emotional confusion, made a big mistake. Who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, found themselves making similar foolish decisions? Perhaps not of the magnitude of the archbishop’s, but equally rash?

Recently, I learned of a well-respected and dedicated man who was being invited to run for a national political office. He would, many agreed, have made a great leader for our country, but he declined to run. He declined because he didn’t want the kind of intense focus on his life that such an endeavor demands. Was he guilty of some horrendous crime? No, but he had made mistakes here and there along the way and didn’t relish the thought of having to relive them. Can you understand his reluctance? Can you identify with it? I certainly can.

Archbishop Weakland made a terrible mistake 20 years ago. There is no denying it. But we also can’t deny that he was one of the most progressive and enlightened church leaders of the 20th century.

His tireless advocacy for the poor and the oppressed was almost without peer. He was instrumental in getting the hierarchy of the church to re-examine the role of women in the Catholic Church. His authorship of a position paper on the immorality of poverty was groundbreaking. He was a dedicated and tireless defender of the rights of all people and his leadership will be sorely missed.

He made a mistake. The fact that the royalties from his voluminous writings more than replenished the money he misspent does not excuse his actions and yet…

Paul Marcoux was an adult. So was Rembert Weakland. They were attracted to each other. There is no crime in that. The archbishop may have broken his vows, but he broke no law by falling in love. The situation only became sinister when Marcoux began to manipulate a lonely man’s affection.

Archbishop Weakland continues to abide by the settlement’s confidential proviso. He has retired from the ministry in silence and under the shadow of deep disgrace.

They say there is no honor among thieves. This may be true, but it certainly appears to me that one thief is far more honorable than the other in this American tragedy.

Rich Mayfield is pastor of the Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church and regular columnist for the Summit Daily News.


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