|NOTE: Bishop Gumbleton
is part of a fact-finding delegation to Afghanistan from June 14 to June
23. He was unable to provide us with the homily for Sunday, June
16. However, he has made available to us a transcript of a talk he
gave concerning the present crisis in the Church.
This is an edited transcript of the presentation given
by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton on May 25, 2002 in Lexington, MA.
Thank you very, very much. Your words of introduction are a bit exaggerated,
but they still sound pretty good, and make me feel good. I really do thank
you and thank all of you for being here today on the occasion of this award,
and also for this presentation. I didn’t exactly offer to give it; I was
kind of pressed to give it. At first I was hesitant to speak about the
crisis in the Church. But as I thought about it, I thought I probably really
do need to in a public way, express some of my own convictions about this
current crisis. So, at this point, I am very happy to make this presentation,
and thank the Sisters of Charity of Montreal for inviting me here today.
In speaking about the crisis in the Church, I know that we all share
many emotions. We feel together a sense of shock. What has been happening
the last few months seems almost beyond belief. And also, a profound sadness.
In a very personal way, I was deeply saddened by the news yesterday that
Archbishop Weakland was forced to resign. And the sadness that we feel
for all of the victims. But ultimately, I think we also in a deep way,
feel a sense of hope. Some people might say that their faith is shaken
by what is happening in the Church. But in a deeper way, our faith really
isn’t shaken. We do have a very strong conviction in the truth of the words
that Jesus proclaimed and were part of our Sunday Gospel just a week ago,
“I am with you all days, I am with you always.” And we know that, in the
midst of all the crisis that we are experiencing, that Jesus is still with
us. We have a much deeper awareness of how very, very human our Church
is. But our faith is in Jesus not in the human institution of the Church.
As I speak to you today, I speak from various perspectives. First of
all, the perspective of being a member of the Catholic Conference of Bishops,
and therefore as one who has some responsibility for resolving the crisis.
Also, I speak from the perspective of one who has had personal contact
with victims, and who has come to understand the deep sense of hurt, betrayal,
and anger that these victims feel. And also, I speak as one who, as any
priest or bishop in the United States, feels somewhat vulnerable because
allegations could be made against any one of us; similar to what happened
to Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. And so, in the midst of this crisis, I am
trying to understand all of these various perspectives and search out what
needs to be the response of each of us and the whole Church.
The crisis is described in the media almost exclusively as a “sex” scandal,
a “sex” crisis. And it certainly is that. It is of major proportions. We
have not previously experienced anything like it in the Catholic Church
in the United States. But if we are really going to understand this crisis,
and if we’re going to find the right way to bring about a resolution of
it, to restore credibility to the Church, to bring healing to the victims,
to curtail insofar as humanly possible any further incidents of sexual
abuse, then we have to see this crisis not just as a sex scandal, but as
a crisis of leadership within the Catholic Church…a crisis that revolves
around the leadership of the Catholic bishops. In many contacts that I’ve
had throughout the country, conversations that I’ve had with various people,
it has become more and more clear to me that what upsets people most of
all is the failure of the bishops to provide the leadership that our Church
needs, and the people of the Church have a right to.
I have received letters from people around the country, and a couple
of these letters bring out so clearly the failure of leadership. One person
who wrote to me from Virginia Beach, VA says, “Not since the Protestant
Reformation has the Church come under such criticism and veered on the
precipice of destruction. And just as in the Reformation the Church has
brought much of the problem on Herself. There has not been one day in the
last three weeks that the Church has not been skewered by columnists, letters
to the editor, or has a news article about the shameful way the hierarchy
is performing. I know you realize that the laity are not as enraged by
the fact that there are priests who are pedophiles, as much as the collusion
in covering up and protecting the criminals disguised as men of God. I
have just sent the Cardinals and Bishop Gregory letters denouncing the
actions of the hierarchy, and asking them to dig deep into their hearts
for the humility, humanity and compassion of Christ. I see only one way
to salvage any piece of the Catholic Church at this point, and that is
for the hierarchy, the bishops to collectively repent, ask for forgiveness
and vow never to allow this kind of thing to happen again. But my fear
is that they will not be able to bend their knees to that, and so will
cause the wholesale ‘slaughter’ of the Church.”
That may seem like a very harsh statement, and yet it is the kind of
feeling that I discovered is not uncommon among many people.
Another letter, I’ll just read a short excerpt, from a married couple,
both of whom have been administrators within the institution of the Church
-- one in a social service agency; the other the principal of a Catholic
school. And they write to me, “It is imperative that when you go Dallas,
that you demand of yourself and of your fellow bishops to develop policies
that are pro-active and thorough. We need to put this scandal completely
to rest for the safety of all. We also need to rebuild the trust that has
been lost through these many years of cover up and omission in handling
A third letter comes from a victim. She addressed the whole Conference
of Bishops: “I don’t have at my immediate disposal a pulpit, or the media
resources you do. But I nevertheless feel I must respond to your publicly
issued statement following your meetings in Rome. How bittersweet your
Easter reference to the Good Shepherd seemed to any victim survivor who
reads your statement. I know it is for me. It reminds me of my early youth
where innocence was untarnished and my prayers were simple. I believed
that the Good Shepherd heard my voice and smiled on one so filled with
zeal. You raised the question of voice. It is appropriate that you wonder
if yours has become the voice of strangers. Every victim has asked similar
questions as they grapple with the aftermath of some very un-Shepherd like
events. Our question of voice has been - have we been silenced forever?
And if we have not, who will hear?” Further on in the letter her anger
and bitterness erupts: “I call no human Shepherd. I call no human my pastor.
That would imply that I have a minute desire left within me to be led.
I do not. I would rather put on my snowshoes and trudge on alone through
a freshly fallen bed of new possibilities, than to allow myself to be subordinated
to the position of lamb to the slaughter again. Any shepherd of mine would
have stood in harm’s way during the recent summit in Rome, and not allowed
the whining about the good priests being victims to become so loud as to
overshadow the condolences that are owed to those abused.”
Again, it may seem to be a rather harsh judgment about the bishops and
their failure of leadership. And yet, as I have reflected more and more
on this crisis, I am convinced that this is what the fundamental problem
really is -- a failure of leadership within our Church.
And the leadership failure has resulted in the bishops not responding
adequately to the actions of perpetrators, to the deplorable, and even
criminal conduct of priests in our midst. And even more deplorable has
been what has taken place sometimes -- a kind of cover-up. Bishops allowing
perpetrators to remain within our midst and moving them from one place
to another. And settlements that have been made in secret without the Catholic
people knowing what the resources that they have contributed to the Church
are being used for. Sometimes letters written by bishops to perpetrator-priests
encouraging them, and no letters, no meetings taking place with victims.
There certainly has been a lack of care for the victims in many, many instances.
This is a clear lack of leadership in our Church. Some of it perhaps due
to ignorance many years ago. But that ignorance was overcome when we in
the Catholic Conference of Bishops were fully informed about the nature
of the problems we were dealing with and how intractable many of these
problems are. And yet the cover-ups and the collusion and the lack of response
to the victims went on.
But it’s not only that kind of immediate failure of leadership that
concerns me. There has been a deeper and more profound kind of failure
on the part of the Catholic bishops in the United States and perhaps in
other parts of the world in allowing a situation to develop where such
a large number of priests seem so susceptible of becoming perpetrators
of these kinds of crimes.
Over 30 years ago, the Catholic Bishops of the United States authorized
a five-part study of the priesthood in the United States. We paid hundreds
of thousands of dollars for this study. It was completed, most of it, by
1971. The study included a historical study of the US priesthood, a spirituality
study, a theological study of what the US priesthood means in a post-Vatican
II Church in the United States. And then even more pertinent to our current
problems, there was a very thorough sociological study and an equally thorough
psychological study of the US priesthood. I can remember very clearly the
meeting we held in 1971 when the chief authors of the sociological and
psychological studies made a presentation to the Catholic bishops. That
psychological study should have been an exceptionally helpful eye opener
for the Catholic bishops. It categorized, from a psychological development
perspective, what the priesthood in the United States looked like. At one
end of the spectrum are maldeveloped priests. And according to the study,
there were about 7 or 8% of the priests in the United States who were seriously
maldeveloped. Then there was a very large category -- 65-66% of the priests
in the United States who were described as underdeveloped. And then another
category of about 13-14% or so that were developing persons. At the other
end of the spectrum about 7 or 8% of priests who would be termed developed
persons. It’s important to grasp what that study revealed. It was saying
that we had in our midst some priests who were severely handicapped from
a psychological point of view; they were maldeveloped persons capable of
inflicting great harm on people they were supposed to be ministering to.
And there was this very large number of priests who would be considered
underdeveloped. And what that means from a psychological perspective was
that a person in his upper 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, whatever chronological
age, would be psychologically developed only to the point of adolescence,
not psychologically mature persons.
There would be varying degrees of underdevelopment, of course. The problem
is very clear: a person is chronologically an adult but is psychologically,
affectively, and emotionally still a teenager. Obviously, such people will
often be involved in inappropriate relationships. And if that relationship
includes a sexual component the problem becomes sinful and criminal.
In my judgment a major failure was the refusal on the part of the bishops
to follow up on these studies. I think I understand one of the reasons
there was no follow-up. This was a time when many priests were leaving
the Church, or, at least, leaving the priesthood. And almost certainly,
if we had implemented programs that would have helped men who were underdeveloped
to become developed persons, many would have understood that they had entered
the seminary during teenage years; they had been ordained without full
human personal development, and had made a life choice when they really
weren’t ready to make such a choice. As they became fully developed persons
they would sometimes make a different choice and leave the priesthood.
And so it would have been dangerous in one sense for the bishops to develop
programs that would have enabled people to move on in their development.
We would have risked, I am sure, losing quite a number. But we would have
had a much stronger priesthood in the sense that we would have had priests
who were psychologically developed, capable of mature relationships, able
to minister, able to live a healthy, celibate lifestyle. But by failing
to follow-up on the study, by failing to bring priests to the point of
full human development, we allowed a situation where many priests are chronologically
a certain age, and psychologically a much younger age. This was a disaster
waiting to happen. A person who is psychologically an adolescent and hasn’t
really integrated his sexuality fully into his personhood, whether homosexual
or heterosexual, would feel more comfortable in relationships with younger
people, with teenagers, or even in the case of the pedophile, toward very
All of this, I think, represents a very serious failure of leadership
on the part of the Catholic bishops of the United States. We failed the
priests when we failed to encourage full human development. But we were
afraid to move forward; we were afraid to really take leadership and do
what needed to be done.
Now that the disaster is upon us, the whole Church in the United States
must respond to this crisis of leadership and the crisis of the sex scandal
flowing from it. I suggest that there are five very important steps we
The very first thing that needs to be done is what was demanded with
such clarity in the first letter I read today. The bishops, as the leaders
in the Church, must accept responsibility for what has happened. It is
a failure on the part of the bishops more than anyone else in the Church.
And that means that bishops must begin to say, “I made a mistake”, not
“Mistakes have been made.” Bishops must be willing to say, “I have made
this mistake, and if this mistake is of such serious consequence that I
should resign, I will resign.” And I would suggest that the bishops ought
to make such a statement, and allow the people of the diocese to make the
final determination, whether they resign or not. That would be a very daring
thing to do, and it would take great courage to do it. And yet I am convinced
that we will not have credibility as bishops until we get to the point
where we can with courage say, “I made a mistake and if that mistake warrants
my resignation, I offer it. And if the people wish to accept it, I will
resign.” Now, I don’t have great confidence that when we meet in Dallas
in a couple of weeks, that this will happen. But I pray that it might because
until the bishops really accept their responsibility, our people are not
going to have much confidence in our leadership.
The second thing that needs to be done -- there has to be a kind of
clearing of the deck. We can’t go on and on in a situation where you never
know from one day to the next where a new scandal is going to erupt. Every
bishop must make public all settlements that have been entered into. The
people of the Church have a right to know if their money has been used
to make settlements. Obviously, priests or bishops who have been involved
must be removed from ministry -- and helped to overcome their problems.
It will require a great amount of courage and humility for us to be willing
to put out in the open all that has happened. But only this kind of transparency
will bring some sense of finality and restore some credibility to the bishops.
The third thing that would need to be done, I think, is that we ought
to establish a national fund for compensation to the victims, especially
to pay for the therapy that for many, has been required for a very long
time. I am confident that if we were to establish such a national fund
many people in our Church would willingly support it to help those who
have been victimized.
Fourth, we do need to develop some kind of uniform policy for dealing
with allegations, and for actual instances of abuse. In order to be fully
just in this regard, there has to be real concern about allegations not
being accepted always at face value. There must be some searching out to
be sure that there is substance to the allegation before a priest is summarily
removed. But once there is substantiation, the perpetrators have to be
dealt with immediately, justly and adequately to assure justice for all
concerned. I do not support the “zero tolerance” approach in every instance.
In those instances where the perpetrator of an act of abuse against a child
is truly a pedophile, zero tolerance is just and seems to be the only possibility.
The best scientific knowledge right now indicates that a genuine pedophile,
a person who is sexually attracted to children below the age of puberty,
is not able to achieve a cure. Such persons must not be allowed to continue
in ministry even in some limited form. No matter what type of limited ministry
was permitted to them, they would still function as public persons in the
church and would always be able to have access to children.
However, when you move away from those who are true pedophiles to people
who are underdeveloped and who perhaps could achieve further development
and further integration of a healthy sexuality into their life, such priests
could be given a chance for therapy, and for programs of personal development.
If they achieved sufficient development, attested to by professional therapists,
I believe they could be allowed to minister once more. This would have
to be with complete openness with the people where they were assigned and
under careful monitoring. We have to understand that some of those priests
are in the situation they are because we have failed them in the past.
They should have the opportunity to grow, to mature, to become a psychologically
fully developed person.
As a means of preventing further abuses, I would suggest that we bring
back the Kennedy study; ask Dr. Kennedy to update it if necessary, then
begin programs of development within our seminaries, to start with so that
we do not ordain underdeveloped persons as we obviously have in the past.
Also every diocese should begin to develop human growth programs for the
priests, deacons, and bishops. I am confident that our Catholic people
would readily support such programs and would be willing to use our resources
to do it.
As part of such a program of bringing about healthy human development,
we must deal with the question of homosexuality in the priesthood. We must
deal with the fact that we live in a culture that is seriously homophobic.
Some of the responses to the scandal have included attacks against homosexual
priests and seminarians. We must further the steps we took in our pastoral
letter, “Always Our Children” to overcome the homophobia within our culture
and within the Church. We must be a truly welcoming community for homosexual
people. But we must also include in our human development programs elements
which would enable every priest, seminarian and bishop to come to a clear
awareness of his sexual orientation and a healthy acceptance of it. “Always
Our Children” pointed out that homosexuals are a gift to the Church, and
we should not marginalize them and push them aside. Well, if we meant what
we wrote in that pastoral letter, then certainly homosexuals should be
welcomed in the priesthood. But they must, just as heterosexual priests,
integrate their sexuality within an honest, authentic lifestyle as a celibate
My fifth suggestion regarding the crisis of leadership in the Church
concerns, perhaps, the most fundamental change of all. We must improve
in a major way how the Church identifies and calls priests to be bishops/leaders.
Most important of all, there must be an open process. This means every
adult member of the Church should have an opportunity to know how it is
done and to participate in the process in some significant way.
At the present time there are criteria for naming bishops which have
never been made known to the whole community. It is my conviction that
these criteria eliminate priests who would be most qualified to be leaders.
Others may not agree with this, but I believe a public discussion of the
issue would be most fruitful. Let the whole community determine what qualities
they expect in their leaders.
An open process and a participatory process would require that people
who are to be considered for bishop would be nominated by the people and
that the names and resumes of those who accepted nomination would be made
public. A special committee representative of the whole diocese would be
given the responsibility to narrow down the list of candidates to a number
desired by the Holy See and only those names would be forwarded to Rome.
A process such as this would be much closer to the way bishops were
named in the early Church. It would also be more consistent with the way
we name other leaders in our society and would provide us with more genuine
I understand that this five part proposal would be very difficult to
agree on. It would be an extraordinary challenge for our bishops and our
Church to accept. But I am convinced that if we make this kind of a policy
and move in this direction that we will restore to our Church a priesthood
that will be able to function in a way that will bring great energy and
life to our Church.
I hope that all of us will join in a spirit of prayer and a continued
spirit of hope and trust that God will lead us in the direction we must
go; that the bishops of our Church will fulfill the leadership role that
has been entrusted to them; and that we will finally resolve this crisis
and move forward as a very vibrant Church in the United States once more.
Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton