Did Bishop Gumbleton Obstruct Justice?

By Matt C. Abbott
Renew America [Detroit MI]
February 5, 2007

Retired Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who for some time has been a favorite among dissenting Catholics, was recently shunned by Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson.

Catholic journalist Jay McNally said the following in a recent e-mail:

You may have noticed in the last few days that Bishop Gumbleton is being hailed as an 'outspoken advocate' for the victims of sex abuse by priests.

Having spent five years (1990-1995) in the Archdiocese of Detroit, where I watched the local scandal unfold, I have no recollection whatsoever of Gumbleton doing anything but being part of the cover-up. Indeed, in one instance, I believe he obstructed justice, as he did not comply with archdiocesan policy.

McNally also posted the following on the blog (slightly edited):

Back in the early 1990s, when I was editor of The Michigan Catholic in the Archdiocese of Detroit, I got to see the face of the clerical abuse scandal up close, and believe me, by no stretch was Gumbleton any more a friend of abuse victims than any other generic bishop. I was repulsed by the chancery's coddling of pedophiles and actively gay priests, some of whom held positions of great responsibility under Cardinal Adam Maida. There were no big secrets on this point.

Indeed, Gumbleton did not follow archdiocesan protocol when he was informed by a [male] victim that a priest [Father Robert Burkholder], then in good standing in the archdiocese, had abused him as a teenager. The public policy at the time was that the archdiocese was supposed to refer such allegations immediately to a very secret review board. But Gumbleton did not do this.

It was nearly a decade later that the priest was finally brought to trial and put in prison. So, in my book, when he had the chance to call the police and report the sex abuse by the priest, Gumbleton sat on his hands, actually obstructing justice.

Since I first saw the recent preposterous claim that Gumbleton is an 'outspoken advocate' for sex abuse victims, I have been trying to figure out how to detail Gumbleton's deplorable obstruction of justice in this particular case, but I have to maintain the anonymity the victim and his family have requested. So, I'm working on that now, and have been in contact with the family.

In any case, I want to say that on the sex abuse scandals 10 and 15 years ago, Gumbleton was nowhere to be found among those agitating for action to put the pedophiles in prison, or out of ministry.

Gumbleton has also been a major promoter of the group Dignity. It did not surprise me that when the county prosecutor in Wayne County (which covers part of the archdiocese) finally started investigating local priests, the public learned that one of pedophile priests was in Washington, D.C., saying Mass for Dignity, even though he had been laicized. This priest pleaded no contest to sex abuse and spent a year in prison.

I don't believe Dignity when they claim they did not know this priest saying their Masses was a pedophile who was laicized for his misdeeds. Nor do I believe that Gumbleton would have remained silent about this priest — he was not reported to police until 2002 — if Gumbleton were genuinely concerned about victims of abuse.

When he had administrative authority to prevent abuse by priests, Gumbleton did nothing, as far as I can tell, to intervene.

Matt C. Abbott can be reached at


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