Foundation Calls for Investigation of Milwaukee Prosecutor’s Role in Archbishop Pay-off

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging not only that Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland be investigated over his apparent use of $450,000 in archdiocese funds as “hush money” to an adult male alleging sexual abuse, but that Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann be investigated for his role in the negotiations.

In a letter to the Office of Lawyer Regulation in Milwaukee, the Foundation today urged the investigation of McCann. McCann announced yesterday he is considering whether to appoint a special prosecutor to determine the source of the hush money Weakland used.

The Foundation wrote that “there appears to be an unacceptable and extraordinary conflict of interest in leaving such an investigation up to the discretion of McCann.” According to today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the prosecutor knew about the situation between Weakland and Paul Marcoux. Marcoux claims Weakland assaulted him in 1979 when Marcoux was 30 and a student at Marquette seeking advice on whether to become a priest.

The Sentinel notes the archdiocese consulted McCann over whether Marcoux could be criminally charged with extortion after Marcoux approached the archdiocese seeking damages in 1997. After that consultation, the Archdiocese allegedly threatened criminal action against Marcoux, and two attorneys representing him. A Milwaukee attorney hired by Marcoux to negotiate with the archdiocese reportedly stepped down out of fear it would jeopardize his ability to practice law in Milwaukee. The hush money was paid to Marcoux a year later.

“Did McCann ever (mis)use his powerful public office to attempt to silence Marcoux or his attorneys?” the Foundation asks in its letter.

The Foundation asked for McCann’s role to be investigated on behalf of its Milwaukee-area members. The Foundation was the first group to collect and document the widespread scandal of sexual abuse in the churches, and published the first book on the subject in 1988. It regularly publishes a column, “Black Collar Crime Blotter,” in its newspaper Freethought Today, summarizing reported criminal and civil actions against clergy and church staff.

In 1988, Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor, who wrote Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, publicly criticized Archbishop Rembert Weakland for a column in the Catholic Herald (May 1988), in which he notoriously wrote:

“We must not imply that the abuser is not guilty of serious crime, but we could easily give a false impression that any adolescent who becomes sexually involved with an older person does so without any degree of personal responsibility. Sometimes not all adolescent victims are so ‘innocent’; some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise.”

Weakland’s expedited resignation, accepted today by the Vatican, swells to (at least) 17 the list of Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops removed or resigning over sexual scandals or cover-ups of sexual scandals in the church.

Earlier this week, Roman Catholic Bishop J. Kendrick Williams, of Lexington, Kentucky, stepped down after a lawsuit was filed charging that 21 years ago he molested a 12-year-old altar boy. Some 88 lawsuits have been filed since April 19 saying the Archdiocese of Louisville ignored allegations of sexual abuse against priests there. Weakland also faces questions on the transfer of priests known to be molesters or accused of sexual abuse of minors in the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

“The problem doesn’t just stop with Catholic bishops and archbishops who have covered up crimes by priests. Some prosecutors also deserve great censure for treating criminal priests and Catholic officials as though they are above the law,” said Gaylor.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) founded in 1978 which works to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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