Clergy sex abuse survivors protest former Archbishop Rembert Weakland's funeral Mass

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Archdiocese of Milwaukee held a funeral Mass Tuesday, Aug. 30, for former Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who died last week at the age of 95.

But a half dozen protesters gathered outside to call attention to Weakland's complicated legacy and his admitted role in the church's sexual abuse scandal.

Archbishop Weakland was remembered by parishioners and clergy as an imperfect man of faith.

The church's sex abuse scandal was mentioned a few times throughout the funeral Mass. But survivors of abuse say it's still painful, and a funeral for someone this controversial should have been held in private.

As steeple bells chimed, mourners prayed at the funeral Mass. But outside the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist there was a different kind of pain and grief.

Clergy sex abuse survivor John Pilmaier said, "This is really a day of shame for the archbishop and the archdiocese."

Weakland admitted to covering up records of clergy sexual abuse while serving as archbishop of Milwaukee from 1977 to 2002.

Survivors say the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands, of children were destroyed.

Peter Isely is the program director of Nate's Mission and an abuse survivor himself. He said, "That's our cross. The knowledge that is deeply buried inside our bodies and our souls."

J. Harvey attended the funeral Mass. He's been a parishioner for more than 30 years and knew Archbishop Weakland well. After the Mass he said, "We were blessed to have him."

But Harvey said Weakland's role in the abuse scandal was on the minds of many, and there were complicated emotions in the pews. Harvey said, "At least we have some closure. And we do have to remember. Remember for everybody."

Victims of abuse were mentioned in the prayers of intercession: "For those whose lives are forever changed by the painful and enduring memory of sexual abuse by ministers of the church. May God heal their wounds, free their hearts from fear and indignation, and open new ways for them to grow and live life fully. And may all of us be instruments of healing as we promise to protect and pledge to heal those who are most vulnerable."

And in his homily, the Reverend Steven Avella said Weakland made mistakes. He said, "Archbishop Weakland made mistakes that were there for everyone to see. Some were personal to him, others shared by his fellow bishops and priests."

He added, "Many of us loved him, and some did not. We cannot dismiss their just anger as we try to make sense of it all. People were hurt, lives shattered and disillusioned."

But some people did want to dismiss the anger. A man walking past the protesters shouted they only wanted attention. Clergy sex abuse survivor Chris O'Leary said, "I want to protect children."

This week the archdiocese said a funeral Mass is not a glorification of a person's life, but an act of mercy for the dead.

But clergy sex abuse survivor Monica Barrett said, "[Weakland] showed survivors no mercy. He didn't care about us."

The church is trying to change that perception, despite not cooperating with the state's inquiry into clergy and faith leader abuse.

In his homily, Rev. Avella said, "Grief and anger have no timetable, neither do forgiveness and reconciliation."

Archbishop Weakland's body will be taken to St. Vincent Archabbey Cemetery in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he will be buried.

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