Gabino Zavala, an assistant bishop of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles has resigned because he has a secret family, including two teenage children. An announcement from the Vatican stated that “the pope had accepted it under the norm in canon (Church law) that says a bishop who is ill or otherwise unfit to carry out his duties should resign.” Because the Catholic church requires a vow of celibacy from its priests, his resignation was accepted. There was nothing reported of any type of abuse, sexual or otherwise, on the part of Zavala; the resignation appears to be solely based on the fact that he met a woman he cared for and decided to father children with her.
The Archdiocese of Bostonhas settled approximately 800 clergy sexual abuse claims, is providing care to about 300 abuse survivors at any given time, and has given anti-abuse training to nearly half a million children and adults. This offender registry allows you to search your area for offenders affiliated with the church only. That being said, the problem of sexual abuse and pedophilia is in no way an issue that lies solely within the church, nor is it an indicator that all men sworn to God are susceptible to becoming rapists, pedophiles, or other sexual predators.
Zavala’s story interested me because it’s quite different from most of the stories regarding priests that make the news. He didn’t molest a child; in fact he “once urged Catholic media to report scandals such as clergy sex abuse in a spirit of love and mercy.” Tod Tamberg, the archdiocesan spokesman, said he “knew nothing about Zavala’s affair except that it involved consenting adults and that no church funds were used.” Unless some lurid details are being kept under wraps, nothing negative took place here other than the simple violation of what seems to be a very outdated rule; no sex, not even with someone you love and wish to have children with because you are promised to God and Him alone.
According to the BBC, the Vatican made no reference to the reason behind Zavala’s resignation and the Pope reinforced the church’s views on celibacy when he said it was “the sign of full devotion, the entire commitment to the Lord and to the ‘Lord’s business’, an expression of giving oneself to God and to others.” I understand the logic but I also believe that the God he speaks of is one that would encourage matrimony and family building rather than a life of solitude, so long as the commitment to Him and to the faith stays strong. Is God truly that selfish to demand that a person go through life without knowing the love of a spouse and the joy of having children? Or would He prefer a dedicated family man rather than a dedicated yet desperate man who succumbs to human nature and sexuality in a depraved way? Being a father Himself, of Jesus and of humanity, I would think that He would encourage monogamous and consenting couples to procreate, not deny the people most dedicated to Him the chance to marry and have children.
In no way am I about to suggest that the celibacy rule is responsible for pedophilia and abuse in the church, but I do think that it isn’t helping the matter. It’s possible that a person who commits a terrible sexual act did so out of desperation because their nature is being denied due to the vow of celibacy. If they had a wife to go home to, maybe they wouldn’t have taken a victim’s innocence away after years of sexual abstinence. There are a lot of maybe’s there because to indulge in sex acts with a child is a horrendous thing to do and isn’t simply the byproduct of desperation. Pedophiles outside of the church are allowed to have sex with any consenting adult that will have them and they still turn to children, so it’s obvious that allowing sex won’t cure a pedophile. But just as some people in prison resort to gay sex because that is all that is available, perhaps priests resort to alter boys because they are not allowed a wife.
Organized religion is flawed, as is nearly everything in existence than relies on us mere human beings in order to function. It’s sad that someone like Zavala, a person who appears to have been a shining star in the Catholic church, must now withdraw from his position. His crime was one that is only a crime according to the word of God as translated by man. I read a lot today about what the Bible says about marriage. In general, it’s safe to say that God desires us to marry a person of the opposite sex. Vows of chastity and celibacy aren’t anything new within the church; these practices have been in place for some time in varying degrees.
As we adapt to the world around us by changing laws, behaviors, and lifestyles, we should also make adaptations within the church. The word of God hasn’t exactly changed much over the years, so either God quit talking or the creative minds behind the Old and New Testament are a thing of the past and no one living in present times is willing to speak up. That aside, the bible can be interpreted in countless different ways and I am certain that the right person can find something within those pages to allow the celibacy rule to be lifted or at least be a rule only until a person finds their life partner and married under the eyes of God.
I was raised Catholic but don’t claim it currently; the last two times I’ve been in a church was to see my son baptized and to sell a guitar to some guy from Craigslist. I have no doubt that an educated religious person can school me severely on why celibacy is important and why God demands his priests abstain from sex and marriage. In my limited experiences with various churches within the Christian faith, I’ve found that the people I’ve connected to and been helped by the most have been those who were married with children. They understood the life of an average parishioner better than those who have never known romantic love or parental bliss. They were able to balance being strong in their commitment to God and being a loving spouse and parent, their faith working to strengthen them on both sides. Perhaps it’s time for the church to stop acting as though love, sex and marriage creates a wall between the person and God. Maybe it’s time to realize that those so-called forbidden things can actually strengthen the bond to God and the commitment to being a good Christian leader and follower.
I work with a woman who constantly speaks of her work in her local church. She councils those in need of a listening ear and a word of advice, she assists those who aren’t as well off as she, and she attends service regularly to support her faith. She volunteers her time to allow herself to be available to those who need a shoulder to lean on or a hand to help them to their feet. I know all this not because I speak to her, but because she happens to also be one of the biggest hypocrites I’ve ever met.
The charity work she does is hardly for free. The stories of those she councils are relayed to her coworkers the next day or next week, generally with embellished details that become more and more fairytale like with every telling; I’ve heard a story go from “she didn’t have enough money left to get cookies for her kids” to “she spent her WHOLE paycheck on liquor and then expected ME to feel bad for her!” Things that were shared in confidence become water cooler talk, and things that were disguised as charity are revealed as nothing more than the work of a nosy woman prying into private lives for personal gain.
I wish I could say that this woman is an anomaly, but sadly I can think of many so-called religious people I’ve dealt with during my life that ended up revealing themselves as something less than godly and pure. The security of a church community allows people to open up about their personal lives and problems, which also opens a door for them to be taken advantage of and/or exploited. The damage my coworker causes by telling stories is minimal, as her name-dropping doesn’t do much among people who aren’t from that community, but it still goes against the teachings of the church she is supposed to be a member of. I can’t imagine anyone being pleased to hear that their mentor was calling them pathetic or worthless behind their back, getting joy from telling stories of their suffering.
This brings me to why I have such issue with church, with religion, and with putting trust into an intangible being. Not one person on this planet shares the exact same beliefs as another person; we all differ in some way and even tightly knit religious groups contain people who have varying opinions or levels of commitment. As a result, a teaching such as “honor thy mother and father” can be interpreted in a multitude of ways depending on the person teaching it and the views of their students. These variations in teachings and how it is absorbed then results in wide variations in houses of worship within the same religion and of course when you cross from one religion to the next. I was raised Catholic and observed a wide variety of bible interpretations, acceptable and sinful behaviors, and suggested ways of worship as I attended different churches and youth programs. The lack of consistency raised questions for me and was enough to push me out from under the umbrella of Catholicism.
The problem doesn’t lie within the idea of religion itself, but rather with everyone’s idea of what religion should be and how people should act within it. It’s hardly the fault of any religious text when people choose to interpret the teachings in ways that are self-serving rather than selfless or to hide behind the word of any god in order to justify their bad behavior. Out of the numerous reasons I’ve lost faith in organized religion, the reason that always holds a place on top is the undeniable fact that being a religious person doesn’t translate into being a good person. If we could prove without a doubt that Jesus walked this Earth as the son of God and performed miracles, we would have a consistent foundation to build off of. Since we cannot do this and must go off of faith, we’re also forced to take our facts from the stories of people no better or worse than ourselves, people just as capable of lying and embellishing as we are and people who can add whatever they wish to a story that they know will be believed because people want to have faith and desire to put that faith into something and someone who seems wonderful and powerful and capable of saving us from ourselves.
I have the utmost respect for people who are committed enough to have faith in something bigger than themselves and who do so truthfully and honestly. The preacher who baptized my son was one of these people; he and his wife welcomed any and everyone into their church without judgment or prejudice and taught the bible in a way that was open and welcomed differences in opinion. I wish people like this outnumbered the money hungry televangelists, extremists, and all the misguided people such as my coworker. I wish I could still take comfort in the idea of a church being a safe haven filled with people who wouldn’t dream of betraying a child of God. Unfortunately, for someone like me to be able to have faith in a higher power, I’d first have to have faith in humanity and those that follow this unseen being. Considering that the majority of people I am surrounded by fall into the Hope Is Lost category, I feel fairly certain I’m destined to remain in a happy agnostic existence.
When I grow up, I want to struggle immensely to have children on my own or to adopt. When I do have kids, I want their friends to make fun of them because of their parents. I want to struggle with marriage too. I want to be stared at when I’m in public with my girl/boyfriend and be made so uncomfortable that I’m afraid to even hold their hand or give them a peck on the cheek. I want people to hate me without even getting to know me. I want to be fearful of my safety when walking in certain areas. I want to be disowned by members of my family. A familiar story that we can all relate to….
….except that it’s not something we would ever say or choose for ourselves. Those things are just a handful of potential issues facing any homosexual man or woman and it is one of the reasons I can not accept it when people declare that homosexuality is a choice that people make. No rational person would choose to place so many hardships on themselves and their family. Maintaining a loving relationship and starting a family is hard enough without adding additional issues to the mix, such as finding a sperm donor, undergoing artificial insemination treatments or IVF, finding a surrogate mother, or attempting to adopt. I enjoy being able to kiss my husband at work without drawing judgmental stares from people around us; I don’t believe someone would choose to be gay and deny themselves that freedom, among others.
I’ve had gay friends in my life ever since 6th grade, and although they weren’t out in the open about it then, there were definitely signs that they were not a typical male or female. The guys didn’t go flitting around like fairies and the girls didn’t dress in flannel and construction boots, they were just obviously a little different in their mannerisms and their interactions with either sex. They had been a little different their whole lives and eventually realized it was because they were attracted to the same sex and desired to have a romantic relationship with someone who society doesn’t want them to be with. Every single one of my friends who came out later in life was teased in middle and high school and some forced themselves to date someone of the opposite sex so the name calling would cease. They tried to act straight but it wasn’t who they were. Just as I can’t force myself to become a lesbian, a homosexual person can not force themselves to be straight because nature simply did not make them that way.
I watched a documentary months ago about two people, a male and a female, who were trying to be straight after having dated people of the same sex. The male’s story bothered me the most; he was seeking help through his religion and had a mentor that was part of the church and also a “reformed homosexual.” They treated being gay in the same way as someone would treat alcoholism, as a disease to be cured. In seeking acceptance from their God and their church, those who go this route are burying a part of themselves and living a lie for the rest of their lives.
Being gay isn’t anything to be ashamed of and it sure as hell isn’t an illness that requires treatment so that it can be cured and a person can be straight again. It’s not a condition and it doesn’t make someone less than human. How is it helpful to tell a person that the only way they can be happy and go to heaven is to deny a part of who they are and force themselves to ignore what is in their heart? It’s heartless and irresponsible for groups and churches to actively try and turn people straight, especially when their time could be better spent fixing actual problems facing the members of their community.
It is none of my business who anyone chooses to lay down with at night, just as it’s none of your concern who I share my bed with. It pains me that it’s even an issue because I don’t see how it matters. We’re all born a bit differently; tall or short, big-boned or rail thin, gay or straight. It is not anyone’s responsibility to attempt to “fix”a homosexual person nor is it their right to interfere with someone else’s life in that way. Rather than make pointless efforts to make us all the same, we should embrace the fact that we’re different and unique individuals. I’m not asking anyone to like homosexuality or agree with it, just let it be and leave them alone.
Last night, my husband and I watched a documentary that focused on religion, a topic that’s always guaranteed to keep mouths moving. One thing that was discussed was Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer. It’s broadcast over loudspeakers five times a day from the mosque beginning at dawn. On the documentary, it was compared to church bells. The citizens in the town that did not practice Islam obviously didn’t see it that way; they were greatly bothered by the disturbance it caused and felt it intruded on their own religious beliefs since they were forced to listen to this call throughout the day, every day.
This is a touchy subject. The average American already equates people of this religion to terrorism, so they’re not exactly in our good graces to begin with. Being forced to listen to the call to prayer just adds insult to injury, but it also happens to be protected by freedom of religion. The issue is whether or not that freedom also gives them the right to somewhat disturb the peace with these loud broadcasts. I’m not a church-going chick and I would be equally as annoyed at church bells loudly clanging at 5am as I would at hearing the Lion King-esque call to prayer. For me, freedom of religion stops at the door; if your practices are extending down the street, you’re invading my personal space and it stops being okay. If I have to hear it in the privacy of my home, I’m not going to be pleased.
But what about around the holidays? If I’m a Jewish woman, should I have to see Christmas decorations in almost every store I frequent and be told “Merry Christmas!” by cashiers in Santa hats? Should I have to listen to O Christmas Tree on the radio while driving to work? Christmas isn’t part of the Jewish faith, yet they are exposed to it by force unless they elect to never leave their home during the early winter months and avoid watching the Christmas parades on television on the 25th of December. Yes, Christmas has become disgustingly commercial, but I happen to be among those who love the holiday and the spirit surrounding it. I love the decorations and about half of the music, I adore buying gifts and spending time with family, and I always look forward to driving past wonderfully decorated homes.
I can also see how people could be put off by having to be surrounded by Christmas when they don’t care about the holiday in the least bit. Christians are the worst; every religious holiday we have that has been commercialized tends to dominate our surroundings. Retail employees and others dealing directly with the public, who used to be able to say things like “Enjoy your Easter weekend!” are now encouraged or instructed to say “Happy Holidays” or “have a nice extended weekend” or simply ignore the holiday altogether. People got offended by the religious implications and our greetings were forced to change. In schools, children can decorate a “holiday tree” or do nothing at all; in my school we celebrated all holidays from all of the religious backgrounds present in the class in order to be fair and to educate, but apparently now that is too much of an imposition on young children. I’ve heard that some businesses do a “Secret Angel” or “Holiday Gift Exchange” rather than a “Secret Santa” in order to stay neutral and not offend the non-Christian staff members.
So are we doing the right thing by being accommodating and non-offensive or are we just catering to over-sensitive people? The call to prayer for me is an issue of disturbing the peace, as it’s a loud noise broadcast five times a day and if it was done in the name of entertainment or something else not affiliated with religion, it would be shut down immediately. Can you imagine Walmart broadcasting the items they were dropping the price on throughout the day, ensuring people enjoying their dinner at Applebee’s across the street could hear it? It wouldn’t fly. Maybe the best solution is to examine things in that way when they rub us the wrong way; remove religion from the equation and evaluate whether or not it’s still offensive and disturbing.
To me, it’s obvious that the call to prayer is a nuisance when the religious aspect is ignored and should be modified since it’s disturbing the community; perhaps the speakers can be turned down or maybe the prayer caller can do so from the mosque doors and not on a loudspeaker system. If you ignore the religious aspect of being wished a Merry Christmas, it becomes no different than being wished a Happy New Year. Being exposed to Easter decorations is just the same as birthday decorations. Store fronts adorned with Santa may just as well be Bugs Bunny. If the only reason something offends you is because of its religious connotations, then it’s not truly offensive, you’re just taking something personally that you shouldn’t be. It’s the same thing as people getting angry when someone says “nigger” during a comedy act. They’re not calling YOU that word, they’re trying to be funny, and it’s you who choose to be offended and take it to heart, making a big deal out of someone who was just exercising their right to free speech in the name of comedy.
I don’t ever expect to live in a tolerant world. I’ll forever deal with people who look at my skin color and not my person, even though some of them fake tan their way into a darker shade than mine. My husband will catch crap for being an athiest and I’ll get scolded for being agnostic. Gay men will be harassed and beaten no matter how many laws are passed guaranteeing their equality, and as much as men seem to love lesbians, certain people will always hate them. I’m not saying we should force ourselves to like people who are different from us, but we shouldn’t go out of our way to hate them for who they are so long as they’re not invading our homes or hurting us personally. I want to freedom to live my life in the fashion I deem fit for me and my family and everyone else should be able to do the same. A persons religious beliefs, personal ethics, what kind of food they’re allowed to eat or who they choose to have sex with is not my concern and doesn’t hurt me or hold me back from my livelihood. If you can’t accept certain things, that’s fine, but instead of hating and protesting, why not try to find the humor in it? It takes more energy to be angry and full of hate than it does to simply laugh something off and keep a smile on your face.
Do you like hearing about or seeing the failures of others? Go talk to my mother, she’ll tell you many tales of how horrible her daughter has been from toddler baby steps to adulthood decision-making. She’d probably invite me over so I could hear from her once again what a screw up and embarrassment I am. To demonstrate, let me share with you some highlights from an email I received from her the day before Christmas in 2010: