| Testimony of Bishop
Gumberton to Ohio House of Representatives
January 11, 2006
Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, DD
Auxiliary Bishop - Archdiocese of Detroit
4860 15th Street
Detroit MI 48208
TO: Ohio House of Representatives
Chairman Willamowski and members of the House Judiciary Committee:
I am Thomas Gumbleton, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you regarding Senate Bill 17.
From the outset I wish to make it very clear that I do not speak in any official capacity on behalf of the Archdiocese of Detroit, nor any regional nor national group of bishops. However, I come before you as a priest of the Catholic church for almost 50 years and a bishop for almost 38 years. I have had many years of pastoral and administrative experience at both the parish and diocesan levels.
I also speak from my experience of listening and attempting to be responsive to the tragic stories of victims of sexual abuse. Finally, I speak out of my own experience of being exploited as a teenager through inappropriate touching by a priest.
I know you have listened for hours to the grim stories of many victims and their family members of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. I thank you for doing this. And, if I may, I extend a very sincere apology to the men and women in this room who were sexually assaulted by Catholic priests and other church leaders. I also apologize to the parents, spouses, siblings and other family members and friends of the victims. I know you, too, have suffered. I am so sorry for what each of you has endured. I know that there is no way to repair shattered innocence or to restore stolen childhoods. But I do offer my sincere apologies to all of you for what you have suffered.
Let me take just a short time to explain why I feel it is important to modify the statute of limitations in order to provide an opportunity for these victims of sexual abuse to have their "day in court."
First of all, I am here because there is still the strong likelihood that some perpetrators have not yet been brought to account. That is why I support the one year civil window. I do believe that the abusers need to be exposed. I also believe that this can only be assured if the possibility exists to bring these matters into a civil court of law. By doing this we will increase, as far as humanly possible, the protection from becoming victims of sexual abuse that all children have a right to.
Secondly, I am persuaded that this is the most effective way to make all those responsible, bishops who protected priest-perpetrators as well as priest themselves, truly accountable for this tragedy, and to deter similar recklessness or wrong-doing in the future, by any decision-makers, inside or outside the church.
Thirdly, by bringing these cases to full exposure and full accountability we have a better possibility of restoring credibility in church leaders as moral teachers and guides.
In a recent issue of American magazine (December 5, 2005), David Hollenback makes the following statement:
In the United States, the recent scandal of sexual abuse by members of the clergy has also seriously undermined the capacity of the Catholic community to address issues of justice and peace. Through the years since the council, I have been very much involved in preaching, teaching and writing about the church's social mission. In the past few years since the scope of the sexual abuse problem has come to light, I have experienced a new tone of skepticism and even cynicism in the response of some to discussions of the council's social teachings. Often the first words I hear following a talk on social justice are comments that question whether any church official has the credibility to speak about justice at all. Since clerics themselves have committed grave injustices of abuse against young people and since bishops have failed to intervene to stop this abuse or sought to cover it up, more than a few feel that church social teaching ring with hypocrisy.
This has been exactly my experience. It reinforces the statement from the 1971 Synod of Bishops on Justice In The World: "anyone who ventures to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes."
When every bishop in every diocese cooperates in bringing about a genuinely just resolution of every charge of sexual abuse, I believe we will once more be perceived as credible moral teachers. Thus what is good for the victims will likewise be good for the church.
Those are my reasons for supporting the window. To allow this may cause pain, embarrassment and sacrifice for our church, especially in the short term. It may cause some hardship for us financially. It might seem easier to keep the evils hidden, to move on and trust that the future will be better. But I am convinced that a settlement of every case by our court system is the only way to protect children and to heal the brokenness within the church.
I urge you to approve this proposed legislation so that justice will prevail, abuse will be prevented, and the healing of victims will proceed.
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