Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Things that make me go "hmmmm"....
On Friday, November 4th, I had the honor of meeting and hearing Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. I was present when he, for the first time, publicly shared the story of Church officials’ response to his effort advocating for clergy sexual abuse victims.
Specifically, in 2006 Gumbleton was scheduled to testify before the Ohio state legislature about extending the statute of limitations for criminally prosecuting child molesters. In many states the crime must be reported within a few years of its commission, despite statistical evidence that the average age for a victim to begin speaking about such a traumatic experience is in their 40s. The small window provided by the statute of limitations and victims’ delay in being able to express the abuse allow most child abusers to operate with impunity.
Gumbleton agreed to testify based on a few motivating factors. However, as he wrote his testimony, he decided the most convincing testimony he could offer was to reveal that he too had been sexually molested by a priest as a child. In his own case, it took him 50 years before he could talk about it. And so, he included this in his testimony.
Bishop Gumbleton was to testify in January, 2006, a few years after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) adopted the 2002 Dallas Charter for “Protecting God’s Children”. Thus, one might assume his brother bishops would fully support such a legislative change. However, the bishops in the state of Ohio actually opposed the legislation and pressured legislators to cancel the hearing. Gumbleton arrived in Ohio prepared to testify but the hearing was canceled. Since he had written his testimony, leaders from the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) distributed his testimony to legislators and reporters instead, and Gumbleton met one-on-one with several legislators and reporters.
Within a week, the otherwise glacially slow-moving Vatican office for the Congregation of Bishops in Rome contacted Gumbleton’s superior, Archbishop Maida, demanding Gumbleton’s resignation. They charged he had broken “communion episcoporum”, a Latin term meaning, “the communion of bishops”. Basically, because Gumbleton spoke the truth in the interest of protecting children rather than protecting the bishops’ fraternity, and because he did so in Ohio rather than in his own diocese in Michigan, the Vatican felt he violated the brotherhood of bishops. Archbishop Maida, had no Canonical requirement to follow the Congregation’s request, yet he insisted upon full and immediate compliance. Why?
In addition to being stunned by the Vatican Office’s uncharacteristically blinding speed, Bishop Gumbleton was profoundly struck that none of his brother bishops offered him support or condolences regarding enduring clergy sexual abuse. His boss, Archbishop Maida, seemed completely unmoved in this regard, focusing on expediently firing rather than healing him. At this time, Gumbleton had been a bishop for over 30 years and thought these men were his friends. Somehow he just assumed they would care about him as a person.
With the Ohio bishops actively lobbying against its passage, the effort to extend the statute of limitation failed. However, Ohio is not unique. Michigan’s bishops lobbied against similar legislation as have bishops in other states. So far, only a few states succeeded in extending the statute of limitations.
Bishops claim they oppose extending the statute of limitations because it would divert dollars from doing charitable work. They believe more people would file civil suits against the Church if the option to pursue criminal prosecution existed. This is an invalid argument for several reasons.
Most abuse victims want two things: to tell their story publicly as part of their personal healing process, and to prevent perpetrators from abusing other victims. It seems logical that victims would first opt to criminally prosecute perpetrators rather than civilly sue them because it would meet both their objectives. Right now they pursue civil suits because that is their only option.
Also, money to pay victims from civil suits comes from diocesan insurance policies not from funds marked for charity. More importantly, Catholic charitable organizations receive the majority of their funding from local, state and federal public funds, not from the bishops or the Catholic faithful. For example, in 2011 the USCCB received hundreds of millions of dollars in grants from the U.S. government. So, this is a groundless argument by the bishops based on misleading information. Why do they bear false witness?
On the same day Bishop Gumbleton told his inspiring story about trying to protect God’s children, Cardinal Law, the former Boston Archdiocese leader who enabled the sexual violation of hundreds of children, had an extravagant birthday party that was attended by numerous high-ranking church leaders in Rome where he currently pastors the Basilica St. Mary Major.
What is wrong with this picture? The bishop who advocates for children is shunned by fellow bishops and forced into retirement while the one who enabled the violation of children is celebrated in the company of many bishops and Vatican officials and continues fully active in ministry with an annual salary exceeding $100,000. Can we take the bishops seriously as having an interest to protect children?
Incidentally, that same week, Fr. Schulte of the Detroit Archdiocese was placed on administrative leave for sexual misconduct that occurred in 1991, twenty years ago. Because the Michigan bishops successfully blocked legislation extending the statute of limitations, the victim will not be able to criminally prosecute the priest. As patterns have shown, rather than serve jail time, the priest likely will either be moved or dismissed from the priesthood. He will not have to register as a sex offender and can volunteer or work with children in the future.
All these things make me go "hmmmm"....
What can we do to insist church leaders stop forfeiting children’s welfare in the interest of preserving their fraternity? What can we do to protect children without waiting for the bishops? What can we do to support victims?
Contact the pope, your bishop, and Vatican officials expressing your outrage at their preference for protecting bishops over protecting children. Call for the resignation of bishops who enable predator priests and who penalize bishops like Gumbleton. Redirect financial support to victims’ organizations or other charities that are good monetary stewards ministering amongst the marginalized. Contact your legislators and insist that the statue of limitations be extended. Write letters to the editor. Contact SNAP and ask how you can support survivors in your local area. But for the love of God and the love of children, do not complacently turn a blind eye and wish this abomination will just magically disappear. It has not and will not until the mass of people, i.e. “the church”, rejects that which enables abusers and their hierarchical enablers to operate within our midst.