Indulgences

Celebrity confessionals are a vertiginous business. Not so much for the authors, who get to beat their breasts, name a few names, absolve themselves and move on, but for us, their market, consumers, fans or critics.

Media reaction has been mixed, to put it kindly, as Elizabeth Edwards has marketed "Resilience," her family chronicle in the wake of husband (and former Senator) John's admission of infidelity with a videographer in his Presidential campaign. Here's a review from the Los Angeles Times and an interesting commentary from James Rainey at the same paper.People are complicated, as he points out, and the temptation is to take sides, creating portraits of saints or sinners.

I've been looking for mention of how and if her faith helped Edwards in some very dark hours, but haven't seen much yet.

And now, within a few weeks, along comes the publicity and carefully doled out revelations ahead of the publication of Rembert Weakland's memoir "A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop." Archbishop of Milwaukee, Weakland resigned in 2002 in the wake of scandal over church payments to a man who claimed Weakland had sexually assaulted him. Oh, and by the way, Weakland, a leader in the Catholic social justice movement and somewhat of a giant among liberals, also writes about his willingness to return known abusive clergy to active ministry.

One would assume, our appetite for scandal being what it is, that some media would lead with Weakland's descriptions of his struggles with being gay and his broken vows of celibacy. But the New York Times? I'm a big Laurie Goodstein fan, and, frankly, I was hoping she wouldn't give in to that temptation. But, as evinced by her lede, in this case she goes for the drama rather than the substance:

In spring 2002, as the scandal over sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests was escalating, the long career of Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee, one of the church's most venerable voices for change, went up in flames one May morning.

On the ABC program "Good Morning America," the archbishop watched a man he had fallen in love with 23 years earlier say in an interview that the Milwaukee archdiocese had paid him $450,000 years before to keep quiet about his affair with the archbishop -- an affair the man was now calling date rape.

The next day, the Vatican accepted Archbishop Weakland's retirement.

Minor quibble here -- the headline I saw called Weakland an "ex-Archbishop." I think you can be a "former" or "retired" Archbishop of Milwaukee, but I don't think you lose the honorific unless you are defrocked or laicized. More major complaint -- it takes Goodstein about half the article to get into the matter of the threatened Marcoux lawsuit and "secret settlement" with him. By the way, the Catholic News Service article said that Weakland had paid back the money paid to Marcoux.

And it's only then that we get into the much larger matter of clergy sexual abuse.

Archbishop Weakland and the Milwaukee archdiocese are also the target of several lawsuits accusing them of failing to remove abusive priests, allowing more minors to be victimized.

In the interview, he blamed psychologists for advising bishops that perpetrators could be treated and returned to work, and he blamed the Vatican's tribunals for spending years debating whether to remove abusers from the priesthood. In one case, he said, the Vatican courts took so long deciding whether to defrock a priest who had abused dozens of deaf students that the priest died before a decision was reached.

"The concern was more about the priests than about the victims," Archbishop Weakland said.

In Milwaukee, Peter Isely, the Midwest director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Archbishop Weakland ultimately failed his people.

Is it more important that Weakland admitted he was gay (how shocking) or that he was part of the one the great tragedies of American Catholicism? I found the archbishop's words (basically placing the blame on others to a large extent) revealing -- why weren't they placed higher in the article?

Rod Dreher's written a scathing post on Weakland and his "narcissistic bloviating." I'd love to hear what Catholic progressives in the media are saying about Weakland's memoir. Were they surprised by anything? Do they forgive him for his akcnowledged sins of omission and comission or hold him accountable for more? Who are the new clergy heroes of the Catholic left -- and are they looked up with the same affection, or with a certain caution?

Elizabeth Edwards and Rembert Weakland were (perhaps still are) iconic figures for many -- it is perhaps fortunate that the media analysis they get today will not be the final word on their impact, their hopes, or their faith.

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