Bishop Tom Gumbleton Talks About Bishops

On Suggesting Future Bishops:

In Detroit after the Vatican Council, Cardinal John Deardon developed a very widespread consultation process. To get names from the whole church rather than from a handful of priests, we sent out some 1,000 letters to every parish council, all the religious communities, all the priests. People wrote thoughtful letters and Deardon read every one. He got names he would have never otherwise thought of. Most bishops didn't do that.

Why Bishops Aren't Leaders:

Paul Hallinan was archbishop of Atlanta in the days after Vatican II. He was a bishop very much in touch with his people. The first time I met him, he told me, "I'm the only bishop in the country who's had the courage to suggest a name for my auxiliary bishop who is smarter than I am, who could outshine me." His name was Joseph Bernadin.

What he says is true. Most bishops need to be number one, so they choose someone who is less bright; well, you get a diminishing return. It's like when we used to have carbon paper: the fifth copy was pretty dim. That's what has happened to the leadership in the American Catholic church. I look around and I see who gets named bishop. Hallinan was right: things are abysmal.

Criteria for Selecting Bishops:

Soon after John Paul II became pope in 1978, what got really sticky were questions about orthodoxy. Birth control became the number one issue. If a priest has spoken out against Humana Vitae or expressed any doubt whatsoever, his name is not sent forward. The same is so on abortion, and more recently on the role of women in the church; anyone who has spoken out about women's ordination is immediately ruled out of consideration for becoming a bishop.

If you aren't a total loyalist ready to accept without question everything that comes from the Vatican on these various issues that remain quite controversial today, even though the church is going through a development in its own understanding of some of these teachings, your name cannot go forward. So we are eliminating large numbers of priests.

My friend Bishop Imesch of Joliet, Illinois over the years has repeatedly asked for auxiliary bishops. Never once did he get a bishop that he wanted. The priests he wanted think for themselves and raise questions once in a while, so they don't get through.

Lay Participation:

Even now, any bishop (if he wanted) could have broad consultation. Most bishops however just do tightly controlled consultations. For the most part lay people have no participation whatsoever in the process : which is obviously absurd! A bishop is to be a leader of the (local) church : which is all of you : and yet you have no participation in the process.

In the clergy sex abuse crisis, the National Review Board recommended that the laity participate in the selection of bishops. That is something we have to continue efforts to promote. Andrew Greeley wrote, "Such a strategy would restore the norms of Pope Leo the Great and Pope Gregory the Great, who ordered that bishops should be selected by the priests of a diocese and then accepted by its people. As long as a bishop can be imposed without the consent of priests and people, promoting the type of bishops who created the abuse crisis, I do not see how credibility can be restored."

In Milan in the 4th century, Ambrose was named bishop simply by acclamation of the people. He was a civil authority but very popular. He had to be ordained...but he became the bishop because the people named him. That's the way it was in the beginning and should be now; so we're going to have to figure out a way to make this happen.

Bishops Accountable to No One:

Technically, bishops are accountable only to the pope. This really is strange. There can be some internal lateral pressure put upon a bishop; but it doesn't much happen. In the sex abuse scandal, why didn't some bishop say to Cardinal Law, "It's wrong for you to be sending this bishops around the country who have already moved priest abusers within your own diocese"? Other people knew. Yet no one would say anything to the bishops who were doing it.; so it kept on happening.

How could the pope, with 4,000 dioceses, know what's going on, and hold any particular bishop accountable? It's impossible. So the bottom line is that a bishop is accountable to no one. This is wrong. The bishop ought to be accountable to the church where he is bishop, accountable to the people, to all of you. Somehow we must find ways to make this happen.

Follow the Money:

Every diocese lacks accountability about money. For example, I'm an auxiliary bishop in Detroit. In our diocesan budget there is a line item for bishops' expenses. I could buy a house anywhere I wanted, live in it (and the diocese would own it) and buy any car (no matter how expensive!) and then send the bills downtown and no one ever asks any questions. That's wrong.

These resources belong to the people; and now we are closing churches and schools because we don't have enough money. There are lots of ways we could trim a diocesan budget, saving considerable money for the poor or for keeping some parishes open. In Boston they're closing 70 parishes; I'm convinced most of them should remain open. But when you're spending money foolishly, with no accounting for how you spend it, you might not have the needed funds. This couldn't happen in the Episcopal church where bishops are held accountable.

Saginaw after Bishop Ken Untener:

I find this very encouraging. In the diocese of Saginaw, Michigan, Ken Unterer, a very close friend of mine, was the bishop. He died recently, but he left something behind. Two months after his death, the people of the diocese called a meeting of all the pastoral ministers : lay people, religious and ordained priests (because some parishes are led by married couples, single persons and women religious as well as priests). They all met and compiled five pages of "things we hold sacred from our pastoral experience in this diocese." These are things they are not going to let go. Here's a sample of items on that list:

1. Liturgy as the prayer of the people

2. Lay preaching

3. Leadership of women, including preaching

4. Lay ministry formation

5. Trusting us as pastoral ministers

6. Leadership by modeling, not by edict.

When Saginaw gets a new bishop, they are going to say: here's what our diocese is like. You better deal with that. This is a church of the whole people of God. No bishop is going to come here and totally change our church. We will work with the bishop. But that bishop must also work with us.

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