(RNS) A Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop from Los Angeles has resigned after admitting he is the father of two children, both now teenagers.
The Vatican on Wednesday (Jan. 4) announced that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala, 60, who was born in Mexico and grew up in Los Angeles.
Ordained in 1977 and named a bishop in 1994, Zavala developed a reputation for fighting on behalf of immigrants and the poor and against the death penalty.
Coming 10 years after the clergy abuse scandal erupted in Boston, Zavala’s resignation could further tarnish the credibility of the church’s U.S. hierarchy as it seeks to move beyond the abuse scandal.
Most recently, Zavala had overseen the bishops’ communications office and media outreach, and his own scandal could also hamper the bishops’ high-profile public campaign against gay marriage.
It is also a setback for efforts by the American bishops to develop Hispanic leaders to minister to the burgeoning population of Hispanic Catholics in the United States.
Hispanics account for most of the growth in U.S. Catholicism, and within a generation they are projected to be the majority ethnic group in the church. But out of nearly 300 active bishops in the United States, just 26 are Hispanics. There are 13 retired Latino prelates, including Zavala.
The Vatican provided no explanation for Zavala’s resignation, saying only that it had been accepted under the canon law requiring a bishop to step down “because of illness or some other grave reason.”
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said in a letter released Wednesday that Zavala told him in early December that he is the father of two teenage children, both still minors, who live with their mother in another state.
Assuming the two children are 17 or younger, they would have been born after Zavala had been appointed a bishop. Calling the news “sad and difficult,” Gomez said that Zavala has been out of ministry and “living privately.”
He said the archdiocese “has reached out to the mother and children to provide spiritual care as well as funding to assist the children with college costs.”
He did not identify the family out of respect for their privacy, nor did he provide any details on how involved Zavala was with the children and their mother, and whether or how he had been providing for them financially.
Gomez appointed Monsignor James Loughnane, a priest who has worked many years in the San Gabriel area that Bishop Zavala oversaw, to take over Zavala’s duties until a replacement is named.