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Bishop Thomas Gumbleton given
Hans Küng Award for the Rights of Catholics in the Church

Friday, November 11th, 7:30 p.m., Best Western Hotel, Elkridge, Maryland, 21075-6206

Working for human rights in the Church is fundamental in enabling the Church to authentically proclaim the reign of God in the world.  That was the message Bishop Thomas Gumbleton gave to the people assembled to hear his response as he was honored with the Hans Küng Award for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, given to him by the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) on Friday evening, November 11th, 2011 in Baltimore.

Gumbleton spoke of his early years as a priest.  He had, he said, no sense of human rights and justice.  The focus for priests was individual and personal, saving souls and converting people.  With a smile on his face, he said that he had set out to "beat Bishop Fulton Sheen" for conversions.  His priesthood, he indicated, was very satisfying.  Then, Küng's book "Reform and Renewal in the Catholic Church" brought forth a different way of thinking, one which found its way into the documents of Vatican II.

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) said everyone was equal in freedom and dignity.  This work of the Church was to cause the world to conform to the reign of God.  This stood in stark contrast to the way of life Gumbleton knew in his priestly ministry.  The mayor of Dearborn, for example, had been elected 13 times, a time during which a common saying was "no black ever to live in Dearborn."  Occasionally blacks did, of course, but enormous pressure was brought to bear on them, including sending the police to their homes on a frequent (daily or more often) basis to "protect them."  Despite that situation, no church, of any denomination, preached against the racism.  It was simply accepted practice.

Gumbleton stated that action for justice, and participation in transforming the world, were constitutive of the way of Jesus.  One example he gave was that of having girls serve on the altar as well as boys.  That, he said, was a profound symbol of equality, yet many pastors wanted nothing to do with it.

Other examples he gave of a lack of due process were the removal of Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia, and the reprimand given to Sister Elisabeth Johnson regarding her book "Quest for the Living God."

The credibility of the Church in the U.S.A. has been greatly reduced, indicated Gumbleton.  This has happened especially with the sexual abuse scandal, which has shown a complete incapacity and even will on the part of the bishops to take appropriate action.  But this loss of credibility has happened in other ways as help.  Gone, for example, are the broad dialogue and debate which helped form the pastoral letters of 1993 (Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers) and 1996 (Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy), and which lent those letters such great credibility, giving the bishops a real voice in the land.  Today, the Bishops gather several advisors and write a pastoral letter, without input from people dealing with the realities.  The result has been letters which are seen as lacking credibility, bishops who are no longer listened to.

How will this situation be rectified?  While Gumbleton appeared to hold out little hope where Church leadership was concerned, he saw great hope in reform and renewal movements such as ARCC, with its membership and supporters spread far and wide.  The future of the Church, he said, lay in the laity, people who would bring to the Church the work of justice and due process that the Church needed within itself in order to once again proclaim the reign of God in the world.

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