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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The tragic twilight of Thomas Gumbleton.

Bill Cork points out this story from my own backyard, a Freep story about the recently-submitted resignation letter from America's longest-serving bishop.

Well, "story" is a bit generous. "Hagiography" is a more like it--but that's par for the course. The secular media always plays slow-pitch with the auxiliary bishop. Every assertion from him is treated with an almost-supernatural awe, a deference they would never accord one of the dread inflexible "conservative" prelates.

Despite offering a ripe target, there will be no fisk today. Instead, just a brief commentary.

The story of Thomas Gumbleton is tragedy in the classical Greek sense: the story of a man endowed with great gifts who squandered them in willful blindness. He is without dispute a charismatic man. He can preach. He handles the scriptures deftly, if with a tiresome, consistent, cloying PC preciousness--God as a distant, transcendent It, never an immanent Father. Got to avoid the big He, don't you know? But give him credit--the old radical has his gifts.

And he also lives as advertised: very humbly on the grounds of St. Leo's. No pampered and lace-bedecked prince, he.

Some of this is no doubt a product of his formative years. It is significant that he became a bishop in 1968, because his mindset never evolved past the pointless children's crusade sloganeering of that most unrevolutionary of years. He pretty well peaked in the 1970s, as is seen in his affiliation with the senescent Call to Action and Pax Christi, both born in the disco decade. He's been a nonentity as far as the governance of the Detroit Archdiocese since 1994, as the article indicates. Essentially, the deal is this: the loose cannon can roll around on the deck as he likes, but has no input at all on the nuts and bolts of governance. It's frustrating for those who despise the sight of bishops trashing the faith, but since he'd do that anyway, you might as well get his hands off the wheel.

Just one of those things Detroit Catholics can only marvel at: Ecclesiastical civil war as chess match. Check and counter-check.

But perhaps the saddest part of his career--and its most consistent thread--is his willingness to be a dupe for overseas thugs in his monomaniacal focus on America as the locus of evil in the world.

I'm reminded of his last visit with a peace delegation to Belgium in January 2003, to protest the U.N. sanctions against that country and the planned U.S. invasion. He protested the enforcement of the no-fly zones, and the civilian casualties he claimed resulted from it.

Oh, I'm sorry--did I say "Belgium"? I meant "Iraq." You'll forgive my confusion, though--he might as well have been visiting Belgium for all the brutal nature of the host regime mattered to him. His record of silence on such visits is thundering--and damning.

Now, let me clarify--I have no problem with a robust criticism of U.S. foreign policy and economic behavior. A bracing challenge to both reminds us that our ultimate loyalties are not to Caesar, but to the One who permits Caesar to wield his sword. But criticism of Caesar means criticism of Caesar everywhere--not just in America. Gumbleton's refusal to do any such thing gives his "peace witness" a crabbed, Potemkin village ludicrousness that invariably wrecks it. Instead of being a powerful advocate of peace who stood up for the powerless everwhere, he became just a stock leftist name that appeared on The Usual Letters, received the Usual Periodic Admiring Piece in local papers, and went to the Usual Conferences thereafter, in a spiral of irrelevance.

According to the Free Press, he is said to be going to Cuba soon. Will the fierce advocate of gay rights bring up the arrest and torture of homosexuals? Will the vaunted voice of the voiceless attempt to meet with imprisoned dissidents, living in horrid conditions? Or will he do the Usual Thing and swoon like good leftists do in the presence of Castro's patented Latin Heat? I have a suggestion on how to bet it.

With the gifts he has, Thomas Gumbleton could have been a prophet, but instead he chose to be a partisan.

What a waste.

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