Bishop Gumbleton Reveals He Was Sexually Abused by a Priest
National Catholic Reporter
January 11, 2006
Speaking before the Ohio House Judiciary Committee today Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit is to reveal that he was "inappropriately touched" by a priest as a teenager 60 years ago, the first U.S. bishop to reveal himself as a victim of clergy sex abuse.
The revelation comes in a statement from Gumbleton endorsing legislation in Ohio that would open a one-year window for victims to file lawsuits over sexual abuse, no matter how long ago it took place. The legislation is opposed by the bishops of Ohio.
The Washington Post published a story about Gumbleton's testimony today. NCR obtained a copy of the bishop's statement, the complete text of which follows this story.
In a telephone interview with the Post, Gumbleton said, "I don't want to exaggerate that I was terribly damaged. It was not the kind of sexual abuse that many of the victims experience." But, he said, he knows why sex abuse victims often cannot file lawsuits within the period allowed by the statute of limitations, which in many states is two to five years after the alleged crime.
"They are intimidated, embarrassed, and they just bury it. I understand that," he said. "I never told my parents. … I never told anybody."
During a meeting of the national bishops conference in Washington a few years ago, he said, he came close to mentioning his own experience with sexual abuse. "But then the conversation somehow changed," he said.
Gumbleton, whose weekly sermons are published elsewhere on this Web site, told the Post that the incidents took place in 1945, when he was in the ninth grade at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.
"As often happens in these cases," he said, a priest used to invite him and one other boy to a weekend cabin. "At some point, he would start wrestling with one of us. Then he would be putting his hands into your pants," the bishop said.
Gumbleton, 75, declined to name the priest, who he said has been dead for more than a decade. "I don't have any animosity for him. I hope he's praying for me in heaven," he said.
Last month, a federal judge upheld the constitutionality of a California law that gave a one-year window for victims of sexual abuse to file lawsuits, no matter how long ago the abuse took place. Ohio's State Senate voted unanimously last year for a bill that would open a one-year window. Ohio's House is now considering the bill. Similar legislation has been introduced in Pennsylvania and New York.
In his statement, Gumbleton said he supports the legislation because "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."
"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," Gumbleton's statement said.
Gumbleton says that full disclosure may cause the church pain and embarrassment and financial hardship, "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."
The bishop is to address a news conference later today. NCR will carry a full report on that conference as well as an exclusive interview with Gumbleton later today. Watch NCRonline.org for updates.
Bishop Gumbleton's statement to the Ohio House Judiciary Committee follows.
January 11, 2006
Ohio House of Representatives
Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, DD
Archdiocese of Detroit
4860 15th Street
Detroit MI 48208
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 America 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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