May 24, 2002 MILWAUKEE (AP) - Pope John Paul II accepted the resignation on Friday of Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the highest-ranking U.S. churchman to acknowledge a settlement of a sexual misconduct allegation against him.

The decision was announced in the daily news bulletin of the Holy See's press office, citing Weakland's age as an explanation. The archbishop, a leading liberal in the church, acknowledged Thursday that he paid a settlement to a man who accused him of sexual assault more than 22 years ago. He denied ever molesting anyone, but asked the Vatican to expedite the resignation he submitted earlier this year after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Milwaukee's top prosecutor, E. Michael McCann, said he had known for years that Weakland had a relationship with a man, but there was no suggestion of any crime. ``He advised me that he had a relationship that had compromised him in some fashion,'' McCann told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in Friday's editions. ``He was troubled by it, but there was nothing criminal in it.''

Weakland's resignation took effect immediately, archdiocese Chancellor Barbara Anne Cusack told The Associated Press Friday. Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was ``deeply saddened'' by the news. ``It comes at a time when the church in our country is suffering greatly from what seems to be an unending series of revelations and accusations,'' Gregory said in a statement. ``On behalf of all of the bishops of the United States, I extend my deepest sympathy to the people of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.''

Roman Catholics across Wisconsin struggled to absorb the news after Weakland's accuser, former theology student Paul Marcoux, went public Thursday with word of the $450,000 settlement. ``I want to cry and crawl under my bed,'' said Marquette Law School Dean Howard Eisenberg, who heads a commission Weakland created to review sex abuse allegations against priests. ``You don't know where the next shoe is.''

Weakland formed the commission in March, and in April announced the archdiocese would adopt a zero tolerance policy toward molestation. Marcoux, now 53, said he and Weakland had had several drinks the night of the alleged assault in 1979, when Marcoux was a Marquette University student in his 30s. He said he did not go to police because two priests - a cousin and a friend - advised against it. In a statement released Thursday, Weakland denied the claims. ``I have never abused anyone. I have not seen Paul Marcoux for more than 20 years,'' he said. ``Because I accept the agreement's confidentiality provision, I will make no comment about its contents.''

The pope was traveling in Bulgaria when the Vatican's announcement was made. His spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said John Paul was abreast of developments in the Weakland case. ``Of course, he reads the newspapers,'' Navarro-Valls said. No successor has been named, but Bishop Richard Sklba will be in charge until a group of priests elects an interim administrator. Cardinal Walter Kasper, a top Vatican official traveling with the pope, said ``I pray for the American bishops to find a solution to this crisis, and I'm sure they will find one.'' Asked what he was proposing, Kasper replied: ``I can't propose a solution for them.''

In recent years, a dozen Roman Catholic bishops worldwide have been publicly accused of misconduct. Weakland's case stands out in part because of his stature in the church. The worldwide leader of the Benedictine order for a decade before coming to Milwaukee, Weakland started a program about 12 years ago that provided support for priest abuse victims and treatment for offenders.

Peter Isely, a Milwaukee psychotherapist who says he was abused by a priest as a boy, said he was saddened - but not surprised - by the allegation against the archbishop. ``It's one piece of evidence about why his leadership has been so compromised on this issue,'' he said. ``It's a pattern of concealing, covering up, hiding criminal behavior.'' In a recently released 1993 deposition, Weakland said he moved the Rev. William Effinger to a new church after the priest admitted molesting a 13-year-old boy. The archbishop didn't acknowledge the allegation to parishioners until years later, after another abuse claim was made against Effinger.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Marcoux said Weakland tried to rape him when the two had been drinking and later made sexual advances that he brushed aside. ``It was flattering to have the Archbishop of Milwaukee - regarded as a progressive, intelligent bishop - interested in me,'' Marcoux said. ``I realized how much in love he was and how obsessed he was with me ... but I was not interested in a romantic relationship with him.''

He said he now regrets not going to the police at the time. An August 1980 letter from Weakland to Marcoux, published Friday in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, indicates the two had a close relationship. It says Weakland gave Marcoux $14,000 for a business venture, and suggests the archbishop felt pressured to donate more - though Marcoux denied Thursday that he ever extorted money from Weakland.

In the letter, the archbishop expressed anguish at not being able to maintain a relationship with Marcoux. He writes that he wept as he penned the letter, which closes with the words, ``I love you.'' ``During the last months, I have come to know how strained I was, tense, pensive, without much joy,'' he wrote. ``I felt like the world's worst hypocrite. So gradually I came back to the importance of celibacy in my life.'' Associated Press Writer Frances D'Emilio in Vatican City and Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.
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