Father James Martin’s Tweets About Weakland Should Offend All
The priest’s downplaying of Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s grave offenses is a painful reminder of the steep hill that the Church in the U.S. still must climb in order to regain its moral authority.
Father James Martin, the outspoken American progressive priest and champion of LGBTQ-friendly reforms within the Church, accomplished a rare feat last weekend by attracting criticism from across the Church’s ideological spectrum. In a disturbing and since-deleted tweet, Father Martin mourned the loss of Archbishop Rembert Weakland in the following way:
Archbishop Rembert Weakland has died. An erudite scholar, gifted pastor, and Benedictine abbot primate, his legacy was marred by revelations that he paid money to a man with whom he had been in a relationship. I considered him a friend and mourn his loss. May he rest in peace.
This characterization of Archbishop Weakland drew sharp criticism from both Martin’s ideological friends and foes, since Weakland’s reputation was marred by far more than his sexual forays. (It should be noted that the man Weakland paid off had accused him of sexual assault.)
Weakland played a pivotal role — perhaps the pivotal role — in the sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. During his tenure, Weakland routinely shredded documents relating to sexual abuse and reassigned dozens of known sex offenders to new parishes in secret because, as he admitted, they would have never been accepted otherwise. These priests proceeded to sexually abuse the children in their care. Weakland also coerced many victims into signing predatory settlement arrangements, which amounted to roughly $30 million.
On Twitter, Martin’s allies politely pleaded with him to delete the tweet and apologize, while his foes lambasted him and reissued questions long asked of Martin that have gone unanswered, including clarifications of Martin’s beliefs related to sexuality and Church teaching.
But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Martin’s initial tweet has flown under the radar. Martin’s framing of Weakland’s maligned reputation as being the result of unfair persecution over his homosexuality and not his role in the mass sexual abuse of children among priests of his generation should disturb us all. For progressives, this tactic recalls the infamous “coming out” of Kevin Spacey during the “Me Too” movement, in which the actor attempted to wrap himself in the rainbow flag in order to deflect attention away from his abuse of male minors. For traditionalists, Martin’s tweet raises questions about why Weakland’s behavior didn’t disturb Martin more seriously until the backlash compelled him to delete his remarks.
The incident is cause for alarm among the American laity. The priest sexual abuse scandal is heavily responsible for the steady emptying of pews over the past 20 years, and the reputation of the clergy in American life remains in tatters. A priest of Martin’s prominence should never project a cavalier attitude toward a situation of such profound moral gravity. His tweet is yet another reminder of the steep hill that the Church in the U.S. still must climb in order to regain its moral authority.