Thursday, a Denver Catholic Register journalist, and the respective
editors of ‘New Advent’ and Catholic News Agency approached to the
office of Joan Fitz-Gerald, president of the Colorado Senate, expecting
to attend a scheduled luncheon with Detroit’s Bishop Thomas J.
Gumbleton, who was in town to discuss two state bills which would lift
the statutes of limitation on some cases of sexual abuse.
The pending legislation, House Bill 1090 and Senate Bill 143, have come under heavy fire from Catholics and others as they would allow sexual abuse victims to wait up to 40 years before filing suits against Catholic and other private institutions in the state.
The problem, critics say, is that the bills would unequally punish the Catholic Church while public school teachers and coaches accused of abuse would--because of state sovereignty laws--be all but exempt.
On Thursday however, Senator Fitz-Gerald told the Catholic journalists that the bishop wanted to “settle down, be calm and get together with the senators.”
Gumbledon, a retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, has been a strong advocate for the Colorado legislation and others like it around the country. He admitted earlier this year to having been sexually abused by a priest as a young man, but has refused to name his abuser.
The small Catholic group, gathered at the state capital, proceeded to ask Fitz-Gerald to recall that under the Colorado Sunshine Law, any meeting involving more than one senator is public, and therefore, open to anyone willing to attend, including journalists.
She immediately responded: “Is this an intimidation?” The journalists explained that they only wanted to know if the scheduled luncheon was on, because if it was going to happen, it was a public meeting, and therefore, they had the right to attend.
“Well, you obviously know the law… now please step out of my office,” said Fitz-Gerald, requesting that the reporters wait outside, without giving any further information about the event.
35 minutes after the event was scheduled to begin, Bishop Gumbleton, surrounded by Fitz-Gerald’s aides and by Barbara Blaine, National President of SNAP, arrived on the scene, coordinated for a few minutes and then proceeded into the senator’s office.
Two other journalists who had been invited, one from the Associated Press and one from the Denver Post, were informed that because of the presence of the “Catholic troops” –referring to the three Catholic journalists present--it was impossible to keep the original plan.
Senator Fitz-Gerald announced to them--and not the Catholic journalists present, who were never addressed by either the senator or any of her assistants--that the meeting with Bishop Gumbleton would be private--with just with one senator at a time--as a way to prevent the Sunshine law from applying and keep the Catholic press out of the meeting.
Ms. Blaine, who remained inside Senator Fitz-Gerald’s office for the meetings, informed the eight senators present, that the nature of meeting had changed, and would be one on one. Two of them decided to leave.
Finally, in the span of an hour and a half, Bishop Gumbleton met with 6 state senators.
Blaine later approached Catholic News Agency to say that the reason why the meeting between the bishop and the senators was private was because Bishop Gumbleton had made a commitment to Church authorities not to speak in public about his opinions.
CNA explained that it had tried to contact Bishop Gumbleton through the Diocese of Detroit, but were advised that the bishop handles his own agenda and commitments in a completely independent manner.
CNA also informed Blaine that Senator Fitz-Gerald changed the original public nature of the event, to which Associated Press and Denver Post were invited, only after learning that members of the Catholic Press were present.
Blaine only responded by saying, “I cannot speak for Fitz-Gerald.”
CNA approached Fitz-Gerald to ask her about her comments regarding the presence of Catholic Press and why she tough it was “intimidating.” “I haven’t said anything and I have nothing to say about the Catholic press,” she responded.
Fitz-Gerald was quoted in the Denver Rocky Mountain News Thursday as saying that “Gumbleton…maintains that openness is 'the only way the Catholic Church can get beyond the scandal.”
On Thursday afternoon however, it was Fitz-Gerald and Blaine who told CNA that Gumbleton himself insisted on the day's closed-door secrecy. Kevin Knight, a well respected Catholic Colorado Native who came to attend the meeting said that "it was ironic to hear SNAP's lecture about bishops who won't meet with people -- as we stood outside their own bishop's locked door."