New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Bridge Building Award Recipient – 1995

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Bishop Thomas Gumbleton’s courageous and compassionate voice has resounded through the Church for over a generation. Whether the issue was Latin American politics, world hunger, nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War, or American hostages in Iran, Bishop Gumbleton has been speaking, with his words and with his life, the Gospel message of unconditional, non-violent love.

In the arena of LGBT issues, Bishop Gumbleton has preached that same gospel message that God’s love can break down barriers of ignorance, discrimination, hatred and fear. At the 1992 New Ways Ministry Symposium, Bishop Gumbleton first spoke out about his own journey of acceptance. “When I recall my first years as a priest, I wonder how I could have spoken as I did many times in the confessional to gay people. Not very long ago, my own brother, Dan, wrote a letter to our family in which he declared that he is gay. He and his partner have a very good relationship. It is humbling for me to acknowledge that I would not even deal with this letter for several months. I simply refused to respond.”

But, of course, he did respond, reaching out to his own family and now, to families throughout the Church. In October 1995, he was a featured speaker at a national retreat for parents of LGBT sons and daughters. He proposed that the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life issue a statement about ministry to families with gay/lesbian members. The committee is now implementing this proposal.

In 1994, on a speaking tour of parishes in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese, Bishop Gumbleton, wearing a miter adorned with a cross, a pink triangle, and a rainbow ribbon, encouraged gay and lesbian people to share their experiences with the Church. “Your experience,” he told a questioner, “can contribute to the understanding of the church and could contribute to the articulation of theology…. So I think your experience is very important.”

Bishop Gumbleton was an early Catholic voice against discrimination towards LGBT people. In 1974, Brian McNaught, who was fired from his job on the Detroit diocesan newspaper for acknowledging that he is gay, went on a hunger fast to call Church leaders to oppose discrimination. Bishop Gumbleton, along with Bishop Joseph Imesch, called on the Church of Detroit to recognize its “serious obligation to root out structures and attitudes that discriminate against the homosexual as a person,” and he pledged to “exert our leadership on behalf of this effort.”

Following through on that pledge, Bishop Gumbleton has educated his fellow priests about the giftedness of lesbian and gay people through his writings and talks on homophobia. Most notably, in 1992, despite pressure from higher Church authorities, he decided to address more than 500 church leaders at a New Ways Ministry symposium. In addition, he added his signature to ads in national newspapers calling for respect and civil rights for LGBT persons.

Building bridges between many communities has been much a part of Bishop Gumbleton’s life. He was the Founding President of Pax Christi, USA (1972-1991), President of Bread for the World (1976-1984), a member of the Bishops’ Committee that drafted the historic pastoral letter, “Challenge of Peace” (1983). He has received the prestigious Isaac Hecker Peacemaker Award (1975), the Public Citizen of the Year Award from the National Association of Social Workers (1981), the Jewish National Fund — Trees for Israel Award (1981), the Palestine Aid Society Award (1990), the St. Bonaventure University Justice and Peace Medal (1991), the University of Notre Dame Peacemaker Award (1991), among numerous others.

New Ways Ministry is privileged to present the Bridge Building Award to this man of peace, justice, and reconciliation, who speaks out boldly, courageously, compassionately, and personally and whose vision of the Church is an inclusive one of love.