Detroit Bishop Says Priest Abused Him
Associated Press, carried in CBS News [Ohio]
January 11, 2006
A bishop in the Detroit Archdiocese said Wednesday that he was touched inappropriately by a priest when he was a teenager, making him the first U.S. Catholic bishop to disclose that he was a victim of sexual abuse by clergy.
Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, 75, spoke at a news conference in support of an Ohio bill that would remove time limits that have prevented past victims from suing the church over their alleged abuse. He said some perpetrators have not yet been exposed, and the only way to ensure they will be is through the courts.
Ohio bishops agree with extending the time limits for future abuse cases but have vigorously lobbied against a provision allowing a one-year window for victims to sue over abuse that happened up to 35 years ago.
"I regret that we need this kind of legislation, but I insist we do need it," Gumbleton said before meeting with House lawmakers who are undecided on the bill.
Gumbleton said he was a 15-year-old seminary student in Detroit when a priest took him and other boys to a cabin northeast of the city. Gumbleton said the priest started wrestling with him playfully, then put his hand down the back of Gumbleton's pants. He said he quickly removed himself from the situation; he did not elaborate.
"I was able to escape a terrible trauma," he said.
Even 60 years later, Gumbleton said, he's embarrassed talking about the incident, which he said explains why some victims never brought lawsuits within legal time limits, which in most states are two to five years.
"I understand why victims of sexual abuse need this new window of opportunity," he said. "For many of them, probably almost all of them, it would be very difficult to come forward and speak."
Gumbleton said he thought about bringing up the incident at meetings of bishops, but the timing was never right. The Ohio bill, which unanimously passed the Senate, prompted him to come forward.
"It seemed to be a very timely moment to do it, because I could make a difference for the victims," he said.
The priest, who was middle-aged in 1945, has long since died. Gumbleton said he knew of only one other victim, who left seminary studies about a decade later.
Officials at the Archdiocese of Detroit and the Catholic Conference of Ohio said they were saddened to learn of Gumbleton's abuse. Both said the church is handling abuse cases appropriately through counseling.
Time limits on lawsuits have "served our society well in protecting the rights of everyone, especially after a long passage of time," Monsignor Ricardo Bass, Detroit delegate for clergy matters, said in a statement. The archdiocese is the country's fifth-largest with about 1.5 million Catholics in six counties.
Ohio bishops have suggested a church-created registry of both perpetrators and those who have participated in cover-ups and insist that internal reforms are adequate.
"Healing is not achieved by lawsuits but by working with those who have suffered abuse, ministering to them pastorally and helping to meet their individual needs," said a statement from the conference, which represents the Ohio church in public matters.
That type of pastoral care has been lacking, Gumbleton said.
"In too many instances ... church leaders have dealt with this as an adversarial situation, and the victims are on the other side. They're fighting each other. That I find deplorable," he said.
Gumbleton, who is near retirement, is known internationally for his leadership in the Catholic peace movement Pax Christi.
AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Survivors group: http://www.snapnetwork.org
Catholic Conference of Ohio: http://www.ohiocathconf.org
Archdiocese of Detroit: http://www.aodonline.org/AODOnline/AODOnline.htm
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