"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Thursday, July 6, 2023

“No Guilty Bystander” tells the inspirational story of Thomas Gumbleton

Book review by Leonard Eiger; July 6, 2023

What does it mean to live as a follower of Jesus in the struggle for justice in today's world? “No Guilty Bystander: The Extraordinary Life of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton,” tells the inspirational story of one bishop who has lived such a life in a world deeply in need of healing. 

The authors of this well-researched book published by Orbis Books, Frank Fromherz and Suzanne Sattler, IHM, have done a deep dive into the rich and often stormy career of a bishop who took on so many issues – including racism, poverty, war, clerical sex abuse, gender issues and nuclear weapons. Through his story we see that it is possible for a member of the clergy to be a follower of the Gospel teachings within a church structure that is itself flawed and in need of healing.

In my own time leading a social justice ministry in the United Methodist Church some years ago, I regularly read The Peace Pulpit, Bishop Gumbleton's weekly homily in the National Catholic Reporter. His homilies were unlike any I had heard from other priests, and greatly informed my own work in the church and beyond. A bold example of his work was his 2004 Christmas morning homily, in which he spoke of the horrific violence in Iraq and said that, “War will not ever bring peace. That's clearly part of the message communicated to us through Jesus who is the full revelation of God. The only way you can bring peace is by transforming the world through love and goodness, spreading the message of Jesus, spreading the love of Jesus. That's the only way.”    

At that time I was beginning to meet, and work with, Catholic priests, nuns and lay people who were the antithesis of what I had experienced as Catholicism, and Gumbleton was certainly among them. For someone “trained and socialized in a hierarchal-clerical culture,” he broke out of the mold, and with open heart and open mind listened deeply – both to The Word and to those around him who challenged the established and rigid church dogma – and grew as a follower of the loving, nonviolent Jesus. This growth informed his work in the church on every level throughout his career as priest and bishop.

Bishop Gumbleton initially found himself immersed in the issue of the Vietnam war. For him this was what Chapter 1 calls his “Personal Turning Point,” a time of great inner transformation. Many factors came together to inform his understanding, including the writings of Thomas Merton, the pacifism of Dorothy Day, and the statements of young draftees “who faced their own personal and existential questions of conscience.” The sacrifice paid by Franz Jaggerstatter in World War II also had a major impact on his objection to the war and his support of conscientious objectors. Gumbleton admitted that it was no easy journey: “I was struggling to determine what my response to the war should be...” 

Gumbleton's trip to Vietnam in 1973, in which he witnessed atrocities committed on behalf of his own government, was one of many trips he would make in witness to suffering in other countries – including Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan. All of these journeys motivated him find “ways to help and provide effective solidarity” to those in need. As Gumbleton once said, “You can't know the situation of the poor and their suffering from the violence... unless you see some of it firsthand, experience it, and come to understand their life from their perspective.”

It is no small irony that this humble follower of the nonviolent ways of Jesus was once “characterized as 'the most radical member of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference... who is into very questionable stuff.'” This was in the context of El Salvador where Gumbleton was considered a subversive by both the U.S. and Salvadoran governments. After Gumbleton travelled to Nicaragua in 1986, “he told the press: 'We've been lied to in order to promote the current war between the Sandinista government and the U.S.-backed Contra rebels.'” Although it was not the bishop's natural inclination to be in the spotlight, Gumbleton time and time again spoke out strongly about injustice wherever he found it.

In a chapter that could have been titled The Straw That Broke the Camel's Back we learn of Gumbleton's ministry to, and advocacy on behalf of, victims of clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church. As with every other issue it began with him compassionately listening to what victims had endured, and in this case he provided testimony for the Ohio state legislature arguing that, “full disclosure of the abuse is essential to hold perpetrators and the church accountable, heal victims and restore the church's 'moral credibility' at a time when 'more than a few feel that church social teachings ring with hypocrisy...” Gumbleton had barely arrived home when the political firestorm began.

When all was said and done (in 2007), Bishop Gumbleton was removed from both his roles as bishop and as pastor of St. Leo's in Detroit. The book quotes Canon lawyer Thomas Doyle referring to Gumbleton's prophetic stance on clerical sex abuse: “If a bishop stands up for what is right and has the courage to express his stand, he will quickly find himself cast out with the rest of us... Bravo for Tom. He did what Jesus would have done.” Indeed he did!

The authors have not only told the stories of Bishop Gumbleton's experience with Vietnam and the clerical abuse scandal. From ministering to the people of his parish to his support for LGBTQ+ rights to nuclear weapons, the book chronicles Gumbleton's growth and prophetic activism as a member of the human family and as a bishop, doing the work he felt called to do.

I spoke with Bishop Gumbleton in 2021 about his friend and colleague Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen who is remembered for his strong stance against nuclear weapons. During that conversation Gumbleton spoke prophetically about the extraordinary immorality of our nation's worship of nuclear weapons. He noted that while some bishops have said President Joe Biden should be denied Communion for his stance on abortion, Catholics serving on a Trident ballistic missile submarine can receive Communion from a Catholic chaplain. “They reinforce these enlisted people wherever we have these weapons, essentially giving their blessing and that of the church,” Gumbleton said. “You have Catholic chaplains supporting the military people who have the intention to use nuclear weapons.” 

Instead, Gumbleton said, the church needs reform to contend with the evil that threatens to destroy the planet: through war and environmental destruction. “Right now we need a profound conversion within the church if we are going to speak God’s word with any type of authenticity,” he said. “That is not going on right now. ... So that makes someone like Ray Hunthausen stand out all the more. If we had 300 of the bishops speaking out like Ray Hunthausen, we might be getting someplace.” 

After reading “No Guilty Bystander” I realized that there was much about this humble servant of God that I had not known. It also became clear just how much his earlier homilies inspired my work to this day – that it is (to quote Gumbleton) – “not enough... to be privately, individually moral, in the face of evil embedded in the very structure of the social system... The believing person says, I will try to speak God's name into this madness and stop it.” If there were 300 bishops today speaking out like Tom Gumbleton, the church might be leading the way to a better world. 

The authors took the title of their book from Thomas Merton’s 1966 “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,” in which Merton wrestled with his contemplative life in contrast to the immense suffering in the world outside of his retreat. Yet, his writings reached far and wide and informed so many people's lives and work including Gumbleton, whose life is evidence that he, too, was “No Guilty Bystander.”

Thanks to Frank Fromherz and Suzanne Sattler for this rich and comprehensive telling of the life's work of a humble and, if I may be so bold, radical priest. 

You may order “No Guilty Bystander” from Orbis Books, which will give (as designated by the authors) all royalties from sales of “No Guilty Bystander” to the Kay Lasante Health Clinic in Haiti, which Bishop Gumbleton helped to establish. 


Leonard Eiger is an activist and member of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Big Superbowl Scam

February 12, 2023

Many, many years ago I enjoyed sitting in the bleachers, bundled up on a cool fall Saturday evening watching a high school football game and cheering on the local team. It was, for me, real - a bunch of high school kids doing something they were good at, and bringing people together for some good, friendly competition. College football, which even then was more organized and better funded, still had that feeling of simpler times.

Today I certainly don't get that warm, fuzzy feeling about football at any level. As for professional football... where to begin?

By the time you read this, Superbowl LVII will be over and the winning team will on its way home for the big parade where the players will brandish their huge trophy and flash their massive Superbowl rings. Yet, even before the game begins you don't have to be a Las Vegas bookmaker to know who the real winners (yes, plural) are in the Superbowl?

Side Note: This year's carefully scripted military flyover will make history by being the first ever all-women team of Navy pilots. At least it won't involve the Global Strike Command's (that's the folks who would be in charge of the end-of-the-world... you know – NUCLEAR WAR) Superbowl 55 nuclear-capable bomber flyover involving three (yes, three!) different bombers; a most impressive spectacle that made people go “ooh and aah,” rather than “WTF!!!” But I digress...

As the New York Times said this morning, “Super Bowl Sunday is akin to a national holiday, one of the few times of year that tens of millions of Americans do the same activity at the same time.” Ain't that the truth. And, of course, being the most-watched program on American TV by a huge margin means huge advertising revenue, and that will likely be dominated by... BOOZE ads, along with cars (well, mostly BIG, manly trucks), pizza and chicken wings.

On a positive note I will mention, although it's barely a blip on most of America's Superbowl Sunday radar, Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl special, an annual televised event featuring dozens of cute puppies taking to a scaled-down football stadium. A “rufferee” oversees “Team Ruff” versus “Team Fluff” as they play for the coveted “Lombarky” Trophy. There is no flyover, and likely no beer advertising, so it's understandable why it's so overshadowed by the Superbowl.

But let's get down to the real issue (I have) with the Superbowl. OK, aside from the fact that it is a massive feel-good opportunity for the Pentagon, boosting people's patriotic fervor for the Forever Wars, and likely boosting visits to military recruiting offices, it is, above all really, really good financially for the team owners.

Aside from the profits from advertising and merchandising, the team owners benefit hugely from taxpayer dollars. As economist Robert Reich points out, “Since 1990, franchises in major North American sports leagues have intercepted upwards of $30 billion worth of taxpayer funds from state and local governments to build stadiums.”

And that's just part of their (sweet) deal. Aside from the Green Bay Packers that, miraculously, is owned by over half a million “Cheeseheads,” the rest of the franchises are privately owned by very rich people, each owner worth at least a billion dollars (and it's not just football teams...).

One would think that public funding would bring public benefits, yet, as economist Reich points out, this does not appear to be the case, as studies have pointed out. As one article said, “There are a lot of things economists disagree about, but the economic impact of sports stadiums is not one of them.”

Instead, between tax breaks, reimbursements on everything from utilities to maintenance and repairs, and all the revenue on tickets and concessions, it's a cash cow (with apologies to our bovine friends).

Capping all this off is the extortion exerted by franchise owners! How many times have we heard about owners threatening to move a team to a different city if they didn't get their way. Here is sunny Seattle, Starbucks’ founder Howard Schultz, who owned the Seattle Supersonics basketball franchise, failed to get public funding to build a new stadium. So what happened? That's right; the coffee billionaire sold the team to another wealthy businessman who moved it to Oklahoma. In all fairness, it is a lot sunnier there.

And, it's not just state and local money; it's also our Federal tax dollars that help fund Superbowl. The 600+ Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel are just the beginning of the Federal largesse bestowed upon this year's sacred event (all in the name of National Security). The Federal government's involvement in protecting Superbowl is so massive that even before the kickoff of this year's game, the DHS is already preparing for next year's game in Las Vegas. 

So what is all this really about? Well, to let the people's economist Robert Reich have the last word: “The most egregious part of how the system currently works is that every dollar we spend building stadiums is a dollar we aren’t using for hospitals or housing or schools. We are underfunding public necessities in order to funnel money to billionaires for something they could feasibly afford. So, instead of spending billions on extravagant stadiums, we should be investing taxpayer money in things that improve the lives of everyone — not just the bottom lines of profitable sports teams and their owners. Because when it comes to stadium deals, the only winners are billionaires.”

You've probably guessed by now what I will be watching this year on Puppy Bowl Sunday...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Subversive Peacemaking going on sabbatical

Dear Friends,

This blog was the beginning for me, the beginning of blogging that is. As my peacemaking work continued to evolve I found myself engaged on a deeper level in the work of abolishing nuclear weapons. I started getting a large amount of feedback that I should consider splitting off the nuclear stuff, and that is what I did. The Nuclear Abolitionist was the next step, and after that came the Puget Sound Nuclear Weapon Free Zone.

Aside from having some fun and blowing off steam once in a great while on The Loose Nukes, I have recently been focusing all my attention on mounting a campaign to scuttle the US Navy's plans to build a new generation of ballistic missile submarines. Known as the OHIO Class Replacement Program or SSBN(X) in Navy circles, I call it New Trident.

Of course, what campaign is complete with its own website or blog, so I created NO To NEW TRIDENT (the name of the campaign) at NOTNT.ORG. New Trident will cost at least $100 billion, just to build 12 replacement subs. Building a new generation of ballistic missile submarines will not only waste a huge amount of our nations human and financial capital, it will also accelerate a growing nuclear submarine arms race and increase the risk of nuclear war.

So Subversive Peacemaking is taking a sabbatical so that I may put all my energies into this important campaign. Check it out at notnt.org and get involved; I think it is a worthy effort.

And to those who have read this blog over the years (and hopefully gotten something useful from it); THANKS!

In Peace,

The Subversive Peacemaker