Monday, February 05, 2007

Stamping Out the Light

Joan Chittister, OSB, has written an insightful commentary on the recent “removal” of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton as auxiliary bishop of Detroit and pastor of St. Leo Parish.

As well as being an internationally-renowned advocate for justice and peace, Gumbleton (pictured above) has also long been a supporter and advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and their families. He notes that the experience of having a gay brother played a foundational role in his call to speak out on the need for change in church teaching regarding homosexuality.

Not surprisingly, when CPCSM approached Bishop Gumbleton to write the foreward to the organization’s soon-to-be released book, Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perpective, he didn’t hesitate.

Following are excerpts from Chittister’s piece, one entitled “Gumbleton: Nothing But the Truth”.

The resignation/removal/whatever of [75-year-old] Bishop Gumbleton brings to the foreground some issues of church that no amount of canon law can ever dispel.

. . .The Urban Parish Coalition, a group under the umbrella of the Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance, placed ads in the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News that read “Bishop Thomas Gumbleton . . . Life-long Detroiter, Priest, Pastor, Bishop, Elder, Global Peacemaker, Visionary, Prophet, Spiritual Leader and Friend . . . We honor, respect and love you. . . . We are opposed to the decision to remove you as Pastor of St. Leo the Great Parish, Detroit.”

How many of those kinds of ads, ads praising a bishop, have we seen lately? It’s a far cry from the ads run in the Boston Globe, for instance, calling for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law. You’d think a church would be giddy with glee to see such a thing happen.

So, the question is not whether or not what has been done has been done legally. Of course it has. Rome has the power, we are reminded often, to do whatever it wants to do to the clerical personnel of the church. The question is only, “Should they?”

And that’s where the scriptures provide an eerie challenge to the news story of the day. “Let your light shine,” it reads. But how shall we recognize what is the light? The criteria is plain: (Matthew 5:1-10) The light is in those who are poor in spirit and gentle, who mourn over the suffering of the world and thirst for justice; who are merciful and pure of heart; who are peacemakers and persecuted for the cause of right.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, international peacemaker, advocate for the poor and oppressed, proponent of justice and truth-teller of the church – even about the church – people everywhere are saying, meets that criteria with startling clarity. That only makes the situation harder to understand, more difficult to grasp. It’s not so much either the resignation or the loss of the parish, however difficult that may be for everyone involved, that makes us wonder. After all, there’s nothing wrong with change.

But in this case, at this time in church history, at this moment when the church has lost such public credibility, when the church needs priests, when this is one of the most effective proclaimers of the Gospel in the public arena, when this is obviously one of the most loved church leaders we have, why lose this one to the public face of the church?

If you read the comments of parishioners and colleagues which this story has evoked, it is the rest of the scripture that troubles them, it seems. “No one,” the scripture goes on, “lights a lamp to put it under a barrel; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house.”

“No pastoral office whatsoever,” the letter from the Congregation for Bishops accepting his resignation says. No position in the diocese at all? No office of peace and justice? No position as special envoy to anyone for anything? Strange, isn’t it? But if this is the case, what happens to the light?

When Cardinal Bernard Law resigned for not telling the truth about pedophile priests, Rome gave him a promotion, a position on five of the curial congregations of the church, St. Mary Major, one of the four principal churches in Rome, and a luxurious Roman apartment. On the other hand, this bishop, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, told the truth, even about his having been abused by a priest himself when he was a young seminarian. Most of all, he took the position that it is the obligation of bishops to bring transparency, accountability and justice to the plight of sex abuse victims, whatever the financial ramifications for the church itself.

From where I stand, it looks to me as if we won’t know for sure what really happened here till we see what they give Tom Gumbleton. But in the meantime, the question looms large for all of us: What is going on in a church that stamps out the light?

To read Joan Chittister’s “Gumbleton: Nothing But the Truth” in its entirety, click here.

Note: The above photo of Bishop Gumbleton was taken on February 6, 2002, and is from my website Faces of Resistance. The caption that accompanies it reads as follows:

Over a thousand people filled the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis to hear Bishop Gumbleton talk on “Peace, Patriotism and Nonviolence: Another Way to Confront Terrorism.”

Bishop Gumbleton is a consistent and outspoken critic of war and the social inequality that fuels it: “If we don’t close the gap between the rich and the poor, if we don’t try to make our world really one with [the] human family sharing all the resources that God gave for all and not just a few, [then] violence will only become worse.

“The poor of the world are outraged [that] this gap is getting larger and larger, a gap filled with violence that is killing them and a violence that will ultimately destroy us. We must do something to bridge that gap, to bring us closer to the poor of the world, to understand why they are angry and why they hate us so much.”

Bishop Gumbleton is also critical of his own church’s so-called “just war theory”: “[We should] take that ‘just’ war theology, put it in a drawer, lock it, and never open it again.

“As war is rejected as the failure that it always is and the [non-violent] way of Jesus is embraced, we will begin to experience the reign of God in our land. Any nation that continues to build up arsenals of weapons of destruction is a nation approaching spiritual death.

“It’s up to us to make the choice to follow Jesus and to make his way of transforming the world a reality. It's an extraordinary challenge, but it's one that with God’s help each of us can accept and live out.”

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Bishop Gumbleton: “For Gay Catholics, Conscience is the Key”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview

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