Gumbleton, 75, told The Washington Post in an interview published in Wednesday's editions that he was "inappropriately touched" by a priest in 1945 when he was a ninth grader at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.
He is believed to be the first U.S. bishop to disclose that he was a victim of clergy sexual abuse and also the first to endorse proposals in several states to remove time limits that have prevented many victims of sex abuse from suing the church.
"I don't want to exaggerate that I was terribly damaged," Gumbleton told the Post in a telephone interview. "It was not the kind of sexual abuse that many of the victims experience."
But he said the experience helps him understand why sex abuse victims often cannot bring themselves to file lawsuits within the period allowed by the statute of limitations, which in many states is two to five years after the alleged crime.
"They are intimidated, embarrassed, and they just bury it," he told the Post. "I understand that. I never told my parents. ... I never told anybody."
The Post said Gumbleton initially disclosed his abuse in remarks prepared for a news conference Wednesday outside the Ohio Statehouse and elaborated in the telephone interview.
He was appearing in support of a bill pending in the Ohio House that would open a one-year window for sex abuse victims to sue the church for incidents that occurred years ago. The state senate has already passed the bill.
"As often happens in these cases," Gumbleton told the Post, the priest would invite him and another boy to a weekend cabin. "At some point, he would start wrestling with one of us. Then he would be putting his hands into your pants."
He declined to identify the priest, but said he has been dead for more than 10 years. "I don't have any animosity for him. I hope he's praying for me in heaven," he said.
He told the Post that opening the window to additional law suits in Ohio and elsewhere "could cost the church some money, but it also could bring a great deal of healing to a lot of victims."
"I've been saying for 10 years that these cases should be handled with pastoral sensitivity, not just in an adversarial legal way," he said. "I've also felt strongly that bishops should be talking to these victims, and so often they haven't been."