Where’s the Honesty?

Where’s the Honesty?

Bishop Gabino Zavala resigned as an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles this week after admitting that he is the father of two teenage children who are living with their mother in another state. Few details are available out of an understandable respect for the privacy of everyone involved.

The news was met with predictable criticisms of the Church’s rule of clerical celibacy, and relief that sexual abuse of young boys wasn’t the issue this time. There was also shock and bewilderment that a man who was so beloved and doing such good work in the Church was being forced to resign over something so natural and ordinary; when pedophile priests and the bishops who covered up for them were allowed to remain in their positions for so long.

There’s more than a little irony in the fact that the news came just days after the official establishment of an ordinariate for Anglican congregations, headed by a married priest.

There’s validity to these reactions. But the thought that kept going through my mind was, “Where is the honesty?” This man was a bishop. He certainly knew the teaching of the Church on clerical celibacy. While one might argue about the merits of that teaching, it’s still the rule. Is it kept perfectly throughout the universal Church? Certainly not. The variations on “He’s only human” being bandied about carry some weight.

None of us is perfect; all of us sin. But it is, in fact, more significant for a teacher of the faith to choose to break one of the Church’s rules than, say, for a married couple not to follow the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception. Jesus had something to say about the religious leaders of his day laying burdens on ordinary people and then missing the mark themselves.

Having two children in a relationship suggests that this wasn’t something that “just happened.” Many choices had to be made. The most fundamental is the choice between the relationship and a vocation to the Roman Catholic priesthood (or consecration as a bishop). Whether it should need to be made is a question for Rome. But choosing to have a secret family in another state is never the right option. It’s a shadow vocation that falls somewhere between marriage and priesthood. It’s living a lie on both sides.

Life is about making choices. Some of those choices are going to be difficult.

Every choice has consequences. People who choose to get married have to be faithful to one person. People who choose to remain single have to find ways to be fruitful that do not involve biological children and ways to be intimate that do not involve sex. And, right or wrong, men who choose to be priests in the Roman Catholic Church have to forgo marriage and children.

The key to making good choices is the ability to be honest: with ourselves, with those we love, with those who look to us for guidance. Growing into honesty and integrity are lifelong goals. Countless men and women work every day to be faithful to the teachings of the Church as they are, not as they wish they were. When those in positions of leadership and power in the church make bad choices, it reflects on the integrity of the entire Church.

Featured photo by Samurai (Free Digital Photos)


About the Author

Diane M. Houdek is Digital Editor for Franciscan Media as well as an editor in the book department. She is the author of Lent with St. Francis, Advent with St. Francis and Pope Francis and Our Call to Joy. She is an avid knitter and spinner and shares her home with four rambunctious dogs. Born and raised in Wisconsin, she has tried her hand at urban farming and a host of other pursuits and hobbies.
  • Anawim

    Diane, You hit the mark.

  • Anonymous

    My wife and I took an oath over 52 years ago before God that we would be faithful to each other.  Why should a single person be thought of as ‘only a human person’?!
    Does not Satan work in all of our lives?  Should one of us decide that perhaps the other is now to old and unable to be totally intimate again that the other should now be able to enter into another intimate relationship at this time would only show that that one is ‘only a human person’, or should we honor our commitment to the other and to GOD?
    Divorce is rife and wrong in many instances – ‘I no longer put up with a nice partner so I will find another’ or ‘I finally found someone who is my cosmic partner and I need a change”.  Isn’t the same true for religious person who swore a vow to GOD?
    This person deceived God and Church and did so for a very long time – may God have mercy on him.  But I will not condone such actions and leave that decision to our God.

  • Sandy Chenella

    Diane gave a very thoughtful analysis of this scandal.  If he felt the calling to marriage, then he should have sought dispensation of his vows rather than living a lie.