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Ex-Milwaukee archbishop told he can't spend final days at St. Vincent Archabbey

| Thursday, July 24, 2014, 1:42 a.m.
Rembert Weakland is the former archbishop of the Milwaukee diocese. AP Photo

Retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who fell from grace in the Roman Catholic Church amid a sex and financial scandal, had hoped to return to St. Vincent Archabbey on Sept. 1 to live out his final days.

But the archabbey has withdrawn its invitation to the elderly cleric, he said.

Weakland, 87, said Archabbot Douglas Nowicki broke the news during a phone call last month, despite his ties to the Benedictine monastery for more than seven decades.

“He asked me to postpone indefinitely my coming,” Weakland told the Tribune-Review in a phone interview. “You don't want to interfere in the house, so I'm going to stay here. I did want to spend my final days there.”

Kim Metzgar, director of public relations at the archabbey in Westmoreland County, declined to comment.

Once a leading and influential voice in the Catholic Church on theological and social issues, Weakland was toppled in the church hierarchy in 2002 by a disclosure that he paid $450,000 in diocesan funds to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed he was the archbishop's lover.

In his book, “A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop,” Weakland revealed he is gay.

Weakland said Nowicki told him it is best that he stay away because the monastery is still in turmoil from the removal of Mark Gruber, a Benedictine monk who taught anthropology at St. Vincent College. Last summer, the Vatican ordered Gruber to leave the monastery and spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance for making false sexual allegations against Nowicki.

“Nowicki talked a lot about a case they had been dealing with, and he said the community needs more healing,” Weakland said.

Under the Rule of St. Benedict, the order's founder, “all guests ... are to be welcomed as Christ.” Still, Weakland said he understands the archabbot's position.

“I'd say yes, I'm hurt, but I try to understand,” he said. “I went to St. Vincent in 1940 at the age of 13. I did my high school there. I did my college there. I did studies in Rome and New York, but I came back there in 1957 and taught there for six years and was elected abbot.”

Weakland, a native of Patton in Cambria County, said he studied for the priesthood and taught at St. Vincent, served as its archabbot for four years and spent a decade in Rome as the Abbot Primate of the Benedictines. He was appointed archbishop of Milwaukee in 1977 and served until 2002, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Weakland said he returned to St. Vincent for a time in 2003 after his retirement. He lives in an independent senior living building in Milwaukee. He still has relatives living in Pennsylvania, a 90-year-old sister in Altoona and another sister, 86, in Duncansville in Blair County.

“At 87, I'm in relatively good health, although I don't buy green bananas,” he joked.

Today, he plays no public role in the diocese he once oversaw.

After his resignation, a spate of lawsuits revealed that Weakland had transferred priests accused of sexual abuse of children from parish to parish without notifying parishioners and admitted shredding church files related to sex abuse involving diocesan priests. Shortly after his retirement, the Milwaukee archdiocese filed for bankruptcy.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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