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Why Bp. Zavala’s situation is irrelevant to the debate on clerical celibacy

January 5, 2012

The resignation of Los Angeles auxiliary Bp. Gabino Zavala amid disclosures that he has fathered two children by a woman living out of state is provoking, of course, all the usual chatter about the Church needing to rethink its rules on clerical celibacy. The Zavala case, however, would be a doubly unsound beachhead from which to further that campaign.

First, by all reports (and notwithstanding the chronic confusion of these two terms), Zavala has not violated the clerical obligation of celibacy (precluding marriage, per cc. 277 and 1087), but rather the clerical obligation of continence (precluding sexual intercourse, per c. 277 and basic Catholic morality). Second, whatever one makes of married deacons and priests, there is zero tradition of married bishops in East or West (certainly past the Apostolic Age, wherein the evidence regarding their matrimonial status is controverted); here, the evidence suggests that Zavala’s children were sired post episcopatum.

In short, opponents of mandatory priestly celibacy need to find a different standard bearer than Bp. Zavala (assuming he wishes to be a standard bearer at all in this, for which there is no evidence so far.)

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