The ninth archbishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, a man lauded for his intellectual heft as an agent of change in the Church but whose 25-year tenure ended in controversy, has passed away.
Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, the archbishop of Milwaukee from 1977 until his retirement in 2002, died Aug. 22, 2022, at the age of 95 at Clement Manor following a long illness.
He was appointed archbishop of Milwaukee by Pope Paul VI in September 1977. He was ordained a bishop on Nov. 8, 1977, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee, and on the same occasion was installed as Milwaukee’s ninth archbishop.
Weakland was a past chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ad hoc Committee on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, and past-Chairman of the NCCB Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
“For a quarter of a century, Archbishop Weakland led the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and his leadership embodied his Benedictine spirit,” current Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said. “His pastoral letter, “Eucharist without Walls,” evoked his love for the Eucharist and its call to service. During his time, he emphasized an openness to the implementation of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, including the role of lay men and women in the Church, the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, Ecumenical dialog, and addressing societal issues, especially economic justice. May he now rest in peace.”
Weakland’s motto was Aequalitas Omnibus Caritas or Equal Charity to All. That came through in his work, according to Fr. Joseph Hornacek.
“As our archbishop for 25 years, Rembert G. Weakland worked to activate a Second Vatican Council Church that proclaimed justice and equality for all people, and delivered inclusive pastoral care for all,” Fr. Hornacek said. “In particular, he tried to ensure that women, especially women religious, were liberated from some historical role models. This extraordinary pastoral leader never lost contact with the weaknesses and strengths in himself and the Church he loved and served. In gratitude, I offer a fervent prayer for God’s gracious love and mercy on a pastor of priests with whom I was privileged to serve.”
Weakland was publicly criticized for his handling — or mishandling — of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, that he had covered up allegations and protected predator priests. Part of Archbishop Weakland’s legacy is also the disclosure of his homosexual affair, which led to the payment of $450,000 to settle a threatened lawsuit.
Archbishop Weakland reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in April 2002. His retirement was accepted May 24, 2002, one day after Paul Marcoux, who received the settlement, appeared on Good Morning America to share the story of his relationship with Weakland.
Current Milwaukee auxiliary bishops James T. Schuerman and Jeffrey R. Haines reacted to the news of Weakland’s death.
“I was saddened to hear of the passing of Archbishop Rembert Weakland,” Bishop Schuerman said.
“My sincerest condolences go out to his family members and friends. I will always treasure the memory of his encouragement and support of my vocation and ministry. May he rest in peace.”
Bishop Haines added: “I would like to extend my heart-felt prayers and sympathy to my fellow Catholics of southeastern Wisconsin concerning the death of the Most Rev. Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B., our ninth archbishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. During his time of leadership of the archdiocese, his dedication to the implementation of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council inspired many lay Catholics to take a greater role in the ministry and service of the Church empowered by the grace received in the Sacrament of Baptism.”
Weakland was born in 1927 in Patton, Pennsylvania. He entered the religious life as a Benedictine novice at St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, in 1945 and was solemnly professed as a monk in that order in 1949, at Solesmes Abbey, France.
His theological studies for the priesthood were done at the International Benedictine College of Sant’Anselmo in Rome, Italy, and at St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1951, at Subiaco, Italy.
Weakland pursued studies in music in Italy, France and Germany, as well as at the Juilliard School of Music, New York, and Columbia University. From 1957-63, he taught music at St. Vincent College. In 1999, he received a Ph.D. in musicology from Columbia University.
He was elected coadjutor Archabbot of St. Vincent Archabbey on June 26, 1963, and received the solemn blessing of an archabbot from Bishop William G. Connare of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 29, 1963. Following this, he became the chancellor and chairman of the board of directors of St. Vincent College. On May 8, 1964, he received a papal appointment as consultor to the Commission for Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council and was appointed a member of that commission in 1968.
He was elected abbot primate of the International Benedictine Confederation on Sept. 29, 1967. At this time, he also became chancellor of the International Benedictine College of Sant’Anselmo, Rome, Italy. He was re-elected to a second term as abbot primate in September 1973. He served as a member of the Council of Superiors General from 1968-77. He participated in the Synods of Bishops in 1969, 1971, 1973, 1987 and 1997. In 1968, he presided at the meeting of Monastic Superiors in Bangkok.
Weakland headed the committee that drafted the pastoral letter, “Economic Justice for All,” which was promulgated by the USCCB in 1986.
A concelebrated Mass of Christian Burial with Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki presiding will be celebrated at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, 812 N. Jackson St., Milwaukee, at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 30, 2022. Priests are invited to concelebrate. Bring an alb and white stole. Visitation will be held at the Cathedral from noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 30. Burial will be at St. Vincent Archabbey Cemetery in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.