L.A. Bishop, Former St. John's Seminary Rector, Resigns, Admits Fathering Two

Ventura County Star
January 4, 2012

This May 2006 photo shows Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles Gabino Zavala, who resigned after admitting he fathered two children who are now teenagers. In a letter, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez says Zavala told him in December that he had two children who live with their mother in a different state
Photo by Emilio Flores

A Los Angeles bishop who was once rector of St. John's Seminary in Camarillo is retiring early after admitting he fathered two children who are now teenagers.

Bishop Gabino Zavala, 60, resigned under canon law that allows bishops to retire earlier than the standard age of 75 if they are sick or considered unfit for office, church officials announced Wednesday. Roman Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy when they are ordained.

Zavala was named rector at St. John's, which prepares priests for the Catholic Church, in 1992. He also was a student, faculty member and vice rector at the seminary before being named rector.

"I'm disappointed. I know this has hurt a lot of people," said Monsignor Craig Cox, the current rector at St. John's and a friend of Zavala's. "He was very committed to justice, world peace, the rights of all people, especially those who are most overlooked. I hope nobody closes their ears and hearts to the good things he did because of this tragedy."

Zavala told church officials in early December that he is the father of two children who live with their mother in another state. The family has not been identified publicly.

Archbishop Jose Gomez, leader of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, announced Zavala's resignation in a letter posted online Wednesday morning. He said the archdiocese will offer spiritual care for the children and their mother and help pay for the teenagers to attend college.

The letter also says Zavala, who was auxiliary bishop for the San Gabriel Pastoral Region, has not been in the ministry since submitting his resignation last month and is "living privately."

Zavala was ordained in 1977 and named an auxiliary bishop in 1994.

"This is unexpected, sad and disorienting news for many people who know and like Bishop Zavala," archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said Wednesday.

Tamberg said he had virtually no details about Zavala's affair except that it involved consenting adults and that no church funds were used.

Many believe the church's celibacy requirement discourages men from entering the priesthood. The church allows married Anglican priests who convert to become priests. Also, Eastern Orthodox Christian churches allow priests to marry before they are ordained.

The Rev. Father Gary Kyriacou, a priest at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Christian Church in Camarillo, said he found it easier to enter the priesthood knowing he could marry and have a family.

"It helped me in answering my calling," said Kyriacou, who is married and has three children. "It would have been a more difficult decision for me if I had to decide whether to be celibate. Everybody has their calling, and celibacy is definitely a calling."

Cox did not have any data on priests or bishops who leave the church because they have fathered children but said it's not common.

"It's a sign that all of us are human," Cox said. "But it is unusual, in my experience at least. Celibacy is a great challenge, but so is fidelity in marriage. People are unfaithful in marriage, and people are unfaithful in celibacy. It's meant to be challenging."

Zavala, who was born in Mexico and grew up in Los Angeles, has advocated for immigrants' rights and fought against the death penalty. He serves on the board of The House of Ruth, which helps homeless women and children, as well as victims of domestic violence. And he has served as bishop-president of Pax Christi, which promotes nonviolence.

This year the group Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice in Los Angeles named Zavala one of its Giants of Justice.

"Clearly he's a man who's very invested in people other than himself," said Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of the organization.

While he believes Zavala's work is important, Cox said he still is disappointed in his friend.

"I can understand, I guess in theory, what happened," Cox said. "But it's really hurtful."


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