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Gumbleton hears gay stories, some angry.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Bishop Thomas Gumbleton rarely wears a miter, but he wore one Oct. 28 at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. Adorning the miter was a cross, and on the cross a pink triangle. A wide border rimmed the miter, the multicolored stripes of the gay/lesbian rainbow.

The miter was a gift from Bill Kummer and Leo Bowe, two of the planners of Gumbleton's Oct. 27-29 visit to the Twin Cities, and it was stitched by Poor Clare Sr. Caroline of Bloomington, Minn. The Detroit auxiliary bishop wore it appreciatively as he walked to and from the "eucharistic liturgy of liberation," a Mass followed by a question-and-answer session.

The Mass was one of five events, all of which included listening sessions. It drew the biggest crowd, perhaps 500 people; the smallest turnout was about 250 people.

At the basilica, as elsewhere, people came to the microphone to say this was his or her first contact with the Catholic church in many years.

Gumbleton listened to gays and lesbians, to bisexuals and transgender persons, to gay priests and to heterosexual parents of homosexual children. His visit was planned by a coalition of Twin Cities area parishes working with the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, an organization that is not part of the local church structure. For at least two of the forums in parishes, police were hired in anticipation of potential protests or pickets but none appeared.

Besides listening, Gumbleton spoke, and to some, his words were compassionate and affirming. They were to Gary Sticha, who "came out" publicly during the Oct. 29 session at St. Stephen Church, Anoka. Sticha, 45, had once been school principal in the parish and subsequently principal in other Catholic parochial schools, but he resigned his most recent position in June. The reason was "political," he told NCR, because the staff who knew he was gay supported him but if he came out to the wider parish community, a few objectors could disrupt a fine program. Gumbleton responded that "people like Gary ought to be able to get a job at any Catholic school," based on their qualifications, not their sexual orientation.

Similarly, at the basilica, he encouraged a gay priest to be as honest as he can about his sexuality, even though the priest has difficulty integrating church teaching and the contrary experience of his sexuality. "I'm not sure you can resolve that contradiction," Gumbleton said, suggesting it may be part of the priest's "living out the way of the cross." The bishop told the priest, "I think you could be a sign of hope for a lot of people."

At the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Gumbleton responded to a young man who had left the seminary following persecution for his homosexuality. The bishop said he thinks gay men, like straight men, can be called to priesthood and should be ordained. He knows of no seminary that deals with the question openly, although some do covertly, he said, "and I think that's the worst way."

To Gumbleton, the ability of a priest to publicly say he is gay would "more quickly than anything else put down a lot of myths and stereotypes" and let people know "in a very practical, effective way that it's not evil to be gay." Gumbleton did not go as far as some of his questioners might have preferred. Asked at the basilica about author John Boswell's research indicating that the church once blessed same-sex unions, Gumbleton said other historians are arguing about Boswell's findings, and the verdict is not in. At St. Catherine's, a man asked how Gumbleton feels about gay marriage. The questioner said he grew up Catholic but has not participated in the church for more than 10 years. He is involved in a committed relationship with another man, he said, and "really would like to be part of the Catholic church, but I refuse to be part of a church" or to tithe "to something that's working against me."

Gumbleton replied that "the church isn't at the point where we would simply say yes, it's okay. ... It's something we're struggling to understand." People must try "to come to grips with the teaching of the church as it is set forth" and as they understand what it means for them.

He quoted from Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland's observation that "it seems clear to me that gay people, like all of us, fare better when they are able to develop stable relationships, when they are not relegated to a same-sex society, when they are permitted to contribute their talents to relieving injustices in our society, when they are loved and respected as people striving to grow humanly and spiritually."

Gumbleton told his questioner, "Your experience can contribute to the understanding of the church and could contribute to the articulation of theology. ... So I think your experience is very important."

At St. Stephen's, the bishop was asked if he would bless a same-sex commitment ceremony Dec. 10. "I'm sure I have something scheduled Dec. 10," Gumbleton responded, smiling. He added that although he believes "we need to support gay and lesbian people in their relationships," the church has not come to "a clear, public stance on that."

Then he added, "I guess I tend to keep pushing forward, but I feel it is important for me to stay within the church. If I were to be suspended, I could not work within the church. So I do have to not do certain things that would bring about the end of my ministry in the church."

A questioner at St. Stephen's said he has trouble reconciling the biblical injunction against homosexual practice with having an HIV-positive gay brother. "I love the sinner but hate the sin," he said.

Gumbleton quoted, as he often did during his three days in the Twin Cities, from an article in America magazine by New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan, explaining his homosexuality and his need to be recognized as a good Christian. Sullivan wrote that as a teenager, he did not express his homosexuality, "partly because of the strict religious upbringing I had and my commitment to my faith." When he finally allowed himself to love someone, he wrote, he felt "an enormous sense of the presence of God for the first time in my life."

Gumbleton, at St. Stephen's as during other forums, emphasized that sexuality is at the core of one's emotional identity. "We need love in our lives to be good Christians," he said. "We can't say, 'I love you, but don't be who you are.'"

A session at Pax Christi Parish in Eden Prairie Oct. 27 was devoted to the relationship of homosexual persons with their families. Christopher Childers explained his 10-year path from alienation to reconciliation with his parents, and Amy Grahn said her parents have always accepted her. They even asked her whether she had dealt with her sexuality before she -- then a young teen -- was willing to do so.

Tom White, a Pax Christi parishioner, told of his four-year journey from disbelief to positive acceptance of the lesbianism of his youngest child and only daughter. He said he was grateful he had previously learned, through helping the homeless and other disadvantaged and rejected persons, not to be judgmental.

Upon learning Karen White was a lesbian, Tom White became sensitized to "cracks about gays and lesbians," and he had to drop "the facade of a perfect family," he said. Then he "found loving support" when he and his wife, Darlene, shared their story with their Renew group. Later, as the result of a talk at Augsburg College, Minn., by former Jesuit John McNeill, he came to recognize the homosexual orientation as a gift from God.

He told about his appreciation of Karen's "loving, caring attitude," and how she and her partner are buying a house, building a future and this year committed themselves to each other in a "holy union" ceremony.

Marsha Schutz also told about her joy-filled partnership in a three-story household with six cats, "two on each floor," as well as her wish that her parents had come to hear the panelists at Pax Christi. "They're always at church," she said, but they and her siblings shun her. Amid tears, she told of conceiving an artificially inseminated baby, then losing it. She expressed determination to try again, and told NCR she would have appreciated having two mothers, especially in view of her father's antagonism toward her.

Gumbleton, having listened to the stories, said they show "our church has failed" homosexual persons, their parents and siblings. "We haven't given (families) a way to understand who their children are," he said.

Responding to a question expressing concern that children of gays and lesbians would lack parents of both sexes, Childers responded, "If two people want to have a child and try so hard" as Schutz and her partner, "I think that child will be brought up in a good way." Gumbleton similarly said that although there are no guarantees in any family of a totally healthy environment, people who are loved usually turn out pretty well. He recalled the church-sponsored orphanages in which only women, sometimes only men, reared orphaned children.

The three days and five forums during which a bishop listened and talked appear to be unprecedented in this nation or any other. Asked what may happen as a result, many participants said they had no idea. One suggested that the programs set a precedent for similar dialogues that might be held each year in a different region, and another thought the forums might encourage parents of sexual-minority persons to join them in pressuring the local church for recognition and acceptance.

Bill Kummer, who is coordinator of parish-based gay/lesbian ministry projects for the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities in the Twin Cities, expressed hopes for three areas of follow-up:

* Formation of a network or coalition in the archdiocese and perhaps elsewhere for people who want to minister to sexual minorities. Already, he said, the committee has developed a parishbased ministry program for about 20 parishes and has exported more than 100 curricula and videotapes outside the archdiocese.

* Encouragement of similar forums in other locales, perhaps also with Gumbleton as speaker, intended to reach clergy as well as mainstream "people in the pews."

* Development of outreach to gay and lesbian youth in Catholic schools through training for faculty and staff and subsequent development of support services for gay and lesbian students. Kummer said this would help the youth avoid the alcoholism and suicide so many fall into because they lack support and socialization with others like them. The committee last spring successfully held a training session for faculty and staff at Totino-Grace High School in the archdiocese, he said.

Gumbleton, at several forums, emphasized "how important it is, what we are doing here" in the dialogue sessions. He hopes that more and more, people will share their experiences, will rise above anger and hostility to respond to one another with compassion and love, he said, so they can learn from one another and build the community of disciples of Christ.
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Title Annotation:Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Author:Gibeau, Dawn
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Nov 11, 1994
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