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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

No Guilty Bystander: Life of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

by Frank Fromberz and Suzanne Sattler, IHM



When it comes to things that truly matter, Thomas Gumbleton has not been a ‘guilty bystander’ His ministry on this earth has been expansive, thorough and holy. He attended to things that really matter: historical forces and systemic injustices in society and in the Church. This book endeavors to be a worthy examination of a remarkable life, but it also aims to provide insight on the social forces, movements, and reactions surrounding his life work Words are inadequate in expressing the breadth and depth of Bishop Gumbleton’s l life. The range of his life and work is from war and peace to poverty and marginalization, from the privacy of conscience to the call to collective advocacy and activism, from pastoring neighborhood parishes, to accompanying the vulnerable across the globe, No Guilty Bystander relates the story of an extraordinary life.


The book has drawn on “on a treasure trove of archival sources” as well as interviews and conversations with both its spiritual with both its central subject and many of the people with whom he has journeyed. His seminary days and the emergence of the highly competitive “Gump” leads to an understanding that to the young priest who becomes a young bishop in 1968 was called to action was called to justice and Gospel inspired nonviolence, a Christmas eve presence to U.S. hostages in Tehran. A key role with the community of bishops charged with writing a pastoral letter to the stability of nuclear weapons and a ‘tenacious commitment’ to various forms of peace work during the following decades.


Part two of the book begins with another period of transformation, relating what happened in Fr. Gumbleton’s heart and ministry when his brother Dan came out as gay. It the course of his ministry Gumbleton traveled to some thirty countries, some on multiple occasions. No single document can begin to document the complex itinerary of his global reach, in fact, in the interest of space the authors had to omit numerous campaigns and commitments and greatly abbreviate some of these episodes. Gumbleton had many years of pastoring at St. Leo’s in Detroit and in 2006-2007 on behalf of sex-abuse victims, he gave deeply personal testimony that upset some higher powers in the Catholic Church. This resulted in his removal from his beloved St. Leo’s.

Part three offers a portrait of Tom Gumbleton’s character, including what some might seem to be a contradictions or paradoxes. The final chapter explores his significance from the wellsprings that have fed his soul to the causes and energies that have propelled him to far corners of the planet. The pictures the authors give us are a meditation of a person who lived the Gospel message. This is a story filled with pathos and even anger over so many injustices, and yet it is no less a story filled with hope and inspiration, one capable of both probing and stimulating our consciences. The authors state: “No Guilty Bystander aims to bring to better light the inner and outer journeys of a man who became a transformational figure on the world stage and in his hometown of Detroit, and whose influence in the church and the wider world is yet to be fully measured or vindicated.


In the section “Final Questions for the Road Ahead” a person asks the Bishop what are the most important questions for the road ahead and he states: I am convinced that absolutely the most important question is the overcoming of our constant use of violence to try to achieve our goals, politically and socially and so on. And that becomes much more apparent right now when President Putin reminds the world that he had nuclear weapon. It is implied threat, he could use them. That’s terrifying!” This is a book that every person in the world needs to read.

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