Catholic press systematically shut-out of [Colorado] state senate meeting with Bishop
“Denver, Apr. 21, 2006 (CNA) - On 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.
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.
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.
The Denver Post story was obviously influenced by these journalists' presence:
Retired Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton met privately with about 30 Colorado lawmakers Thursday to promote bills aimed at helping childhood sex-crime victims file lawsuits.
Gumbleton met with each lawmaker one-on- one in Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald's office to avoid the state's public-meetings laws.
Fitz-Gerald said the meetings "allowed people to look into the eyes of a Catholic bishop who was a victim himself, and they could see that he was sincere and that he understood the ramifications of the legislation."
Fitz-Gerald is sponsoring Senate Bill 143, which would open a window in the statutes of limitations to let long-ago cases of sexual abuse of a child be pursued in court.
The Denver Post previously indicated the meeting would be private, though the Rocky Mountain News did not.
Kevin Knight, as usual, had a great riposte: "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."
The legislation in question is itself questionable legislation lifting the statute of limitations on civil sex-abuse lawsuits. The attempt to spin the story by calling in an out-of-state bishop and then barring the local bishop's own reporter from the meeting is an unseemly extension of church politics into the civil legislature. Gumbleton's willingness to bypass the local bishop to lobby for a law in a state some thousand miles distant from his home is an obvious rebuff to Archbishop Chaput.