By Peter J. Smith

MARQUETTE, Michigan, October 13, 2009 ( – A public controversy has erupted between two bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States, with one of the youngest bishops in the country publicly taking on one of his own colleagues in an effort to defend the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and other issues.

Marquette Bishop Alexander K. Sample, 49-years-old and one of the youngest US Catholic bishops, recently banned Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, 79, a retired auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit and notorious promoter of homosexuality, contraception, and homosexual and women’s ordination, from entering and speaking in his diocese, citing his pastoral duty to defend the “faith and morals” of the Catholic Church. The controversial bishop was set to address the group Marquette Citizens for Peace and Justice.

“As the Bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, I am the chief shepherd and teacher of the Catholic faithful of the Upper Peninsula entrusted to my pastoral care,” said Bishop Sample in a public statement. “As such I am charged with the grave responsibility to keep clearly before my people the teachings of the Catholic Church on matters of faith and morals.”

“Given Bishop Gumbleton’s very public position on certain important matters of Catholic teaching, specifically with regard to homosexuality and the ordination of women to the priesthood, it was my judgment that his presence in Marquette would not be helpful to me in fulfilling my responsibility.”

The elder prelate, who once held the title of Vicar General of Detroit, counts himself as a member of radical heterodox groups such as New Ways Ministry and Call to Action, both of which have been censured by the Vatican for moral and doctrinal reasons, especially over the promotion of homosexual behavior as a valid normative lifestyle. Members of Call to Action are also excommunicated in one US diocese and the group agitates for contraception, abortion, divorce and remarriage, and change in the governmental structure of the Church.

Gumbleton’s career as an active and well-known “liberal” prelate came to an abrupt end in 2006, when the Vatican denied his request to continue on as Auxiliary Bishop to Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

For his part, Sample made clear that banning Gumbleton had nothing to do with either Marquette Citizens for Peace and Justice or the topic of Gumbleton’s speech, which concerned the matter of peace and justice.

Instead, the deciding factor, said Sample, was the potential for Gumbleton to mislead members of his diocese on Church teachings through discussions and interactions either tangential or unrelated to the topic of Gumbleton’s speech.

“I was concerned about his well-known and public stature and position on these issues and my inability to keep these matters from coming up in discussion,” added Sample. “In order that no one becomes confused, everyone under my pastoral care must receive clear teaching on these important doctrines.”

Sample stated that he regretted the public controversy, but made clear that Gumbleton had put him in that position by neglecting “common courtesy” between bishops, which requires them to ask permission before entering the diocese of another bishop. Instead, Gumbleton had informed Sample of his intention to speak at the event organized by Marquette Citizens for Peace and Justice on October 9, after the upcoming event was made public.

However, this is not the first time that Gumbleton has been banned from a diocese in which informing the local ordinary of his presence was an afterthought.

In 2007, bishop Gerald F. Kicanas banned Gumbleton from entering his jurisdiction after he discovered that Call to Action had arranged for him to speak at Catholic churches and schools in the diocese.

For pro-life and pro-family leaders – both inside and outside the Catholic Church – Sample’s stand against Gumbleton is being interpreted as a sign of hope and a reminder of a generational changing of the guard within the Catholic Church.

Gumbleton is 30 years senior to Sample, and represents an aging and shrinking demographic of US bishops whose heterodox opinions were formed in seminaries during the 1950s and who were active in ministry during the cultural upheaval of the 1960s and 70s.

Sample, on the other hand, represents a younger class of bishops formed during the papacy of John Paul II that have trended toward taking up the challenge of defending orthodox teachings on morals, doctrine, and liturgy.

“The bishops aren’t sworn to each other, they are sworn to obey the gospels,” veteran pro-life leader Joe Scheidler of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League told Scheidler added that bishops nevertheless often do act like members of a “unique club” generally protecting each other and not talking about each other in public.

“But if a bishop is so bad” like Gumbleton, said Scheidler, “If they are doing something that is causing something that is causing scandal, it takes a strong bishop to call them on the carpet.”

Read Bishop Alexander Sample’s statement here.

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