By Christopher Stefanick
Something can be learned from every scandal. I lived and worked in the San Gabriel region of the Los Angeles Archdiocese for almost five years. Gabino Zavala was the bishop assigned to our region.
About a month ago, Bishop Zavala informed Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez that he had been living a double life and had fathered two children with the same woman.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to preserve the family’s anonymity out of respect for their privacy and has offered financial help with the children’s college education. The Vatican accepted Bishop Zavala’s resignation on Jan. 4.
The news made me sick, sad and angry all at the same time. Scandal upon scandal has made it an exhausting 10 years for U.S. Catholics.
Bishop Zavala was well loved. He grew up in L.A. He knew the culture and its needs. He worked hard to serve the poor and to uphold the rights of immigrants and prisoners. One religious sister who grew up in the region reflected: “It is a huge grace that he admitted this. He was a gentle and loving soul. He still is. Now, he can live in true peace. Let us pray for him.”
So, to turn this mud into mortar, what can be learned from this particular scandal? I think it’s a good reminder that everyone, even someone who might look like a saint on the outside, needs accountability. Perhaps this is something that can be learned from every scandal.
Whether it is a priest who breaks his vows, a husband who cheats on his wife, or a businessman who embezzles millions, people don’t enter their vocations in life with the deliberate intent to cause scandal and destroy lives.
But between point A, when a person decides to devote himself to some high ideal, and point Z when he becomes a headline, there are a lot of points. I have to wonder if Bishop Zavala was talking to anyone about what he was going through as he sped past points B through Y. Who was he accountable to? Who did he bare his soul to? In his lofty post, did he feel safe telling anyone what he was being tempted by before he fell into it?
I can guess the answers to those questions, though of course, I can’t know for certain. What I do know is that Bishop Zavala’s fall is a sobering reminder that we need to keep ourselves accountable to people around us.
My family and friends save me from falling just as much as any virtue I may have developed over the years. For example, I have no desire to look at Internet porn. While I hope it’s because I have the virtue of chastity, I think the lack of temptation I experience in this area is also simply because I lack opportunities for that sin.
I have a computer in a public place in my house and five kids walking around. There are techs at my work that would be notified if I searched for inappropriate stuff in the office. There’s a wife who would kill me if I did. And the confessor who I sit down with face-to-face every month would have to hear about it.
When the people someone is surrounded by put a brick wall between that person and some sin, it never gets much opportunity to become a serious temptation.
Sequoias are the largest trees on earth. Their roots don’t go deep. They go wide. When they interlock with all the other sequoias around them, they become the strongest of trees. Cut down every sequoia around another and no matter how massive its trunk, it is far more likely to fall. Likewise, we need each other to stand tall. That’s why God made so many of us.
We need candid conversations with friends, family and confessors who we can be real with and who won’t shun us when we tell them what’s been tempting us or what weakness we’ve been struggling with. Without that, I think that we’re all Gabinos waiting to happen—to a greater or lesser degree.
I hope Bishop Zavala and all involved will find that kind of support in the Christian community after this fall. And I hope that we’ll all be reminded that no one is beyond becoming a scandal if we aren’t standing with the help of others.
Christopher Stefanick is the director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver as well as a speaker and author. For more information, visit www.chris-stefanick.com..
Christopher Stefanick is the director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver as well as a speaker and author. For more information, visit www.chris-stefanick.com
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