Outspoken Ex-Bishop Cancels Talks As Dioceses Shun His Visits

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star [Tucson AZ]
February 3, 2007

After finding out he wouldn't be welcomed by Roman Catholic dioceses in Tucson and Phoenix, a retired bishop from Detroit has canceled plans to speak in Arizona.

The Rev. Thomas J. Gumbleton, a retired auxiliary bishop from the Archdiocese of Detroit, was scheduled to speak about homosexuality and the church Tuesday in Tucson.

Gumbleton is known for advocating more inclusion for lesbians and gays in the church and for speaking out about the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.

Gumbleton seeks inclusivity for gays, lesbians
Photo by Daily Star

Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said last week that he would not welcome Gumbleton to the local diocese, not because of Gumbleton himself, but because of the group that was hosting him, Call to Action.

Sponsors from the Tucson chapter of Call to Action take positions that are contrary to church teachings, Kicanas said. For that reason, the group's messages cannot be promoted on church property, he said.

The national group Call to Action says its mission is freeing the Catholic Church to become a force for peace and justice in the world. Its Web site includes information about optional celibacy for priests and on the status of women, gays and lesbians in the church. Critics of Call to Action say its members are disobedient Catholics.

"He's being silenced," said Laurie Olson, vice president of the local Call to Action chapter, which had found a non-Catholic church for the talk. "His assistant called and she said that he was required to cancel because he was denied permission by the bishop (Kicanas)."

Kicanas said he'd written to Gumbleton and made it clear he would not be in Tucson at the invitation of the local diocese. Diocese of Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted had similar correspondence with Gumbleton, Phoenix diocesan spokesman Jim Dwyer said Friday.

Gumbleton was scheduled to be in Phoenix on Wednesday to give a talk titled "The Gospel for Today," to be hosted by the Phoenix Chapter of Call to Action. But Olmsted told Gumbleton his diocese could not sanction the talk because of Call to Action's sponsorship. Dwyer explained that Call to Action has a reputation of dissent regarding key Catholic teachings.

The local chapter of Call to Action says it follows the national mission. The group has hosted speakers who urge improved transparency and inclusion in the church, and its members have proposed more democracy in the church, such as the election of bishops.

"We'd hoped the bishops would follow in the footsteps of Christ and allow Bishop Gumbleton, one of their own, to speak on issues of justice," national Call To Action co-director Nicole Sotelo said.

Olson said her group still plans to hold the local event, set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday at First Christian Church in Midtown. Group members hope that Gumbleton will speak by video teleconference. If that doesn't work, they plan to show a DVD of him speaking about homosexuality.

"We will not allow our prophet to be silenced," a press release from Olson's group says. "As the scriptures say, 'the very stones will cry out.' "

Gumbleton, featured in a Jan. 24 article on the National Catholic Reporter's Web site, has been in the national news lately because he was not reappointed pastor of the inner-city St. Leo's Catholic Church, which he'd led since 1983.

In a video of his last Mass at St. Leo's, filmed by a parishioner and posted on the National Catholic Reporter's Web site, Gumbleton says he still wants to lead St. Leo's and believes he was not reassigned because of the recent openness with which he spoke concerning victims of sex abuse in the church.

Gumbleton also has talked about his own childhood sexual abuse by a priest.

The Archdiocese of Detroit says it did not renew Gumbleton's position because of his age. At age 75, all bishops must submit a letter of resignation directly to the pope, wrote Cardinal Adam Maida, archbishop of Detroit, in a letter to parishioners distributed the weekend of Jan. 20-21. Maida wrote that the pope had accepted Gumbleton's resignation.

Gumbleton was unavailable for comment Friday.

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