Breaking confidentiality agreements; Specifically the Weakland case

This thread is inspired by the local hubbub in southeastern Wisconsin involving Archbishop Weakland and his former intimate, Paul Marcoux. Marcoux had accused Weakland of abuse, coercing him into an unwanted relationship using his authority as an archbishop. Weakland denied any abuse took place, and stated that he (Weakland) broke off the relationship when he renewed his commitment to celibacy. He did agree to settle with Marcoux for $450,000 in funds from the church, providing that Marcoux kept his claims quiet. If Marcoux did not, repayment of the moneys would be expected. Note that Marcoux was an adult when the alleged abuse took place.

Fast forward to 2002. On May 15, Jerry Topczewski, spokesman for the archdiocese, was quoted in a Journal Sentinel story about the “listening sessions” that had been planned for that night - organized discussions at six churches about priest sex abuse. Topczewski said that all victims should feel free to come forward and speak of their experiences, regardless of whether they had

signed a confidentiality agreement. Marcoux came forward with his story after this. Not locally at the church meetings. But on national TV.

Now Marcoux is subject to great vilification for “breaking the silence”. Should he have kept silent? Was the original agreement illegal in the first place, since it could be construed as covering up a crime? Should Marcoux give the money back? What do the GD dopers think of this?

Personally I don’t have a problem with Marcoux coming forth. I don’t know enough about him to decide whether he is acting out of principles, or is a “little cockroach” as some have labeled him. But if the american Catholic church is to survive (caveat: I am not a catholic, and never have been), I think a lot of secrets will have to be revealed, and a lot of skeletons will have to come out of the closet. What say you?

If I were a Catholic, who had faithfully given money to the church for many years, I’d be upset to learn that some of it had been used for a coverup of the personal transgressions of an individual who also happened to have a church office. I don’t have a problem with confidential settlements in general, but this one looks like misappropriation.

But Marcoux, on his side, agreed to the terms, voluntarily, and should be bound by it. He went public, and should return the church’s money (that he shouldn’t have been given in the first place) to the church.

To your broader question, I doubt you’ll see a rash of repeated breakage of these settlements. The church cannot be any more embarrassed than it is, so the coercive value of coming forward no longer exists, while the value to the victims of keeping the money will always exist. That also means there aren’t going to be many more of these settlements in the future, either.

Elvis, do you feel that Marcoux should have disregarded the statement by the archdiocese spokesman that it was now ok to speak about experiences, regardless of confidentiality agreements? Should the archdiocese be giving people permission to talk about their cases? Should the archdiocese still try to have the confidentiality clauses enforced?

Qadgop, to your first question, no, he should not have disregarded it, but should have cleared his intentions first. He was bound by a legal contract, after all.

To your second question, yes, certainly, secrecy has allowed this stuff to continue and secrecy should be removed wherever possible. That seems like the church’s pastoral duty to me.

To your third question, no, I don’t see any value in having the archdiocese try to enforce them anymore. There’s no embarrassment left for them to avoid.

I have one for you, then: Was it ever proper for the church to use its institutional funds to cover up the personal crimes of its individual officers?

To answer your question: I don’t feel it’s ever proper to use any funds to cover up a crime.

Thanks for your replies. I’d answer more in depth, but one of the little Mercotans needs the computer for homework

In the Weakland/Marcoux case, what crime was committed?

  • Rick

Private agreements against “public policy” are not enforceable in the courts, by and large. In the circumstances defined, I suspect that the payment of “hush money” to Marcoux would be considered as “against public policy” and that therefore anyone (Weakland, the Archdiocese, or whoever) attempting to recover the money would have a very tough case to make.

If my landlady (a gracious lady but with some lingering prejudice) were to sell me the house I rent at a reduced price, it being understood that the price reduction would be to induce me not to sell the property to a non-white buyer, and I proceeded to sell it to a black person, she would be unable to recover from me the amount of the price reduction, as the restrictive covenant she would seek me to buy into would be against public policy. I might well have a moral problem on my hands in that I accepted the price reduction with no intent to carry out her intention, but I have no legal problem. Marcoux is in much the same situation.

The crimes are theoretical, and not really related to the OP. The Milwaukee district attorney actually reviewed this case when payment was being arranged, and felt there was nothing criminally actionable going on.

My point is not to figure out who committed which crime, but if breaking the confidentiality agreement in this (and other) cases was justifiable, given that the archdiocese publicly stated that all should feel free to discuss their experiences.

I don’t know about legally, but ethically I think there is a big difference between giving somoene money to not talk about a crime nad giveing people money to not talk about something legal: I think it would be perfectly legitimate (if silly) to give an ex $100,000 to never mention to anyone that I snore. It would be totally differnet to give an ex $100,000 to never tell anyone I sold cocaine out of the living room.

There are few people in the hierarchy of the Church for whom I have less respect than I have for Rembert Weakland. He was always the type of self-styled “maverick” bishop that liberals in the media could turn to when they wanted a juicy slam against traditional Catholic notions of morality, or a snide poke at the Reagan administration. So, I admit, I take some pleasure in seeing the creep squirm.

That said, it appears to me that Weakland’s “crime” was against the Church and the ordinary working-class Catholics of Milwaukee whose money he paid out to that lying, blackmailing turd Macoux.

It seems pretty clear from the correspondence between Weakland and Macoux, correspondence that’s now in the public record, tha Weakland and Macoux are gay, and had a lengthy, consensual sexual relationship. Weakland broke it off, and Macoux has been holding the affair over Weakland’s head ever since, extorting money and favors from the bishop.

If Macoux had any integrity or decency, he’d have reported the “crime” publicly ages ago, instead of trying to blackmail his old lover. And if Weakland had any courage, honor or decency, he’d have admitted his sin long ago. Many, pehaps most Catholics would have been willing to forgive his lapse. Certainly the liberal Catholics who made up Weakland’s fan club would have been quick to forgive the affair.

Unfortunately, Macoux DOESN’T have any decency, and Weakland DOESN’T have any honor or courage, so he took money from his followers, to pay off a slimy blackmailer and avoid some personal embarrassment. That makes Weakland a thief, in my book.

Legally and ethically, it’s pretty obvious to me that Macoux has an obligation to return the money he received… but the Church has already suffered so much embarrassment, I don’t see much to be gained by taking action to get the money back.

If ANYBODY is to be sued for return of the funds, it ought to be the thief himself. Weakland.

Hi, astorian -

I am not Catholic, either, but I believe Weakland contends that the settlement was paid back by his donations of honoraria, speaking fees, and so forth, and did not come out of parish funds. Last I heard (I was in Milwaukee when the scandal broke), the DA in Milwaukee County was investigating to see if this was so. I guess you could argue that all the fees Weakland donated belonged to the parish anyway, but I believe he is/was a diocesan priest, and they don’t take vows of poverty.

As to the question of the OP, no, Marcoux should have kept his mouth shut as agreed. I know no more about the circumstances than I have read in the paper, but my understanding is that Marcoux accused Weakland of having sexually assaulted him in the context of an ongoing sexual relationship after Weakland broke off with him. Marcoux essentially blackmailed Weakland with the threat of going public about their relationship, and so Weakland paid him the $450K to keep the whole thing quiet.

Then Marcoux spent all the money, and came back to Weakland with the same threat and his hand out. Weakland declined, citing the previous agreement, and Marcoux then followed up on the threat by going public.

I suspect one lesson that could be drawn from this is that blackmailers only have as much power as you grant them. If Weakland had simply dared Marcoux to do his worst, he could have put this whole thing behind him and saved everyone a lot of trouble.

I think the circumstances in this case were somewhat other than the general pattern of Father having his way with the altar boys before Mass, and then being shuttled off to a different, unsuspecting parish when the Bishop got wind of it.