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Wisc. Priests Struggle With Scandal

May 26, 2002 | AP

Roman Catholic priests struggled to comfort their congregations on Sunday after the Milwaukee Archdiocese acknowledged paying a man $450,000 to settle sexual misconduct allegations against former Archbishop Rembert Weakland.

Several priests acknowledged that parishioners' faith in God has been shaken by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, sex abuse accusations against priests nationwide and the Weakland revelation.

"How I wish I had the wisdom and words to touch your hearts with peace and healing today," the Rev. Carl Last said during Mass at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral. "How I wish I could take away the pain all of us are experiencing. But I can't."

Milwaukee Archdiocese officials said Weakland prayed alone Sunday.

ABC News first reported Thursday that Weakland agreed to the settlement with Paul Marcoux, 54, in 1998. Marcoux said Weakland tried to sexually assault him in 1979 after they went out to dinner. Marcoux was a Marquette University theology student at the time.

Weakland, one of the church's leading liberals, denied he ever abused anyone but said he agreed to the settlement. Weakland's 25-year tenure ended Friday when the Vatican (news - web sites) approved his resignation. He reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in April.

A group of nine priests Friday elected Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba to lead the 10-county archdiocese of 685,000 Catholics until a new archbishop is installed.

"I feel like someone died, only there's not going to be a funeral, you know, and where are we going to grieve?" the Rev. Ken Knippel told churchgoers during Mass Saturday evening at St. Eugene Congregation in Fox Point.

The Rev. Mike Hammer's voice broke during Mass at St. John as he told churchgoers he had "great respect and affection" for Weakland and urged them not to lump Weakland with pedophile priests.

At St. Anthony's Church, the Rev. Paul Hartmann asked parishioners to pray for Weakland. He said the most disturbing part of the scandal was the cash settlement but asked churchgoers not to take out their anger on the collection box.

"St. Anthony's hasn't been painted in a number of years. Please do consider that when you are making donations," he said. "I agree that's a selfish, sad request to make."

Not every parishioner was forgiving.

Julie Remitz, 46, said as she left Mass at St. Luke's that she has stopped giving money to the church because of the Weakland settlement and is considering leaving the Catholic faith.

Diocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski has said the money for the settlement came from the archdiocese's general budget, not donations.

In Boston on Sunday, protesters screamed at Cardinal Bernard Law as he left the Holy Cross Cathedral. Law celebrated Mass, as he does each Sunday, but did not mention the sexual abuse scandal.

Nearly three dozen demonstrators used a bullhorn to shout protests. Most wanted Law to resign for not removing pedophile priests from active duty. Several protesters briefly chased Law's car on foot as he drove away.

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