Wednesday, January 04, 2012

In SoCal, Seismic Shock: Cirilo, Up... Gabino, Out

Resolving at long last a process that's been afoot since 2007, at Roman Noon the Pope named Auxiliary Bishop Cirilo Flores of Orange, 63, as coadjutor of San Diego, the nation's eighth-largest city, now home to over a million Catholics.

A graduate of Stanford Law, Flores (above) becomes heir apparent to Bishop Robert Brom, 73, whose tenure has become mired in the fallout of the San Diego church's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy birthed by a tide of sex-abuse suits.

The litigation enabled by California's 2003 "window" law, which suspended the civil statute of limitations for a year, in September 2007 the diocese settled its 144 cases for $198 million. Not long after, credible reports indicated that the search for a coadjutor to Brom had begun. Over the years since, however, several prelates were said to have declined the appointment, ostensibly given the challenges of the diocese's post-bankruptcy landscape. (In a fresh spate of bad news, meanwhile, a San Diego priest was arrested yesterday on suspicion of having sexually assaulted a 20 year-old woman late last week.)

Ordained a priest at 43 for the Orange church after a decade in private practice, Flores spent 18 years in parish work before his 2009 appointment as auxiliary to Bishop Tod Brown. Said to be a cheerful, happily low-profile figure, the San Diego nominee heads toward the Mexican border as his native diocese prepares its takeover of Crystal Cathedral following Orange's $57.5 million November purchase of the landmark Protestant temple to serve as its new seat, and while speculation swirls over the future of the 1.3 million-member fold following Brown's 75th birthday six weeks ago.

With Flores set to become the first Hispanic bishop named to lead the San Diego church since its spin-off from the LA archdiocese in 1936, it is especially notable that, upon his ascent, the heads of five of the six dioceses in California's Southern (ecclesiastical) province will be of Latino roots.

With over 9 million Catholics between them, Los Angeles and its suffragans comprise the largest of the American church's 33 metropolitan regions.

According to late word from San Diego and Orange both, Flores' Mass of Welcome will take place on Monday, 13 February, at a location yet to be announced. Regardless of rites, however, the appointment is effective immediately.

With the California bishops on their annual retreat this week, the customary Appointment Day presser for the new coadjutor isn't slated to be held in San Diego until Friday.

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Meanwhile, in a surprise move, B16 has accepted the early resignation of LA Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala, who turned 60 last September.

While rumors of unspecified Roman concerns over Zavala have circulated for some time, and have intensified over recent months, Catholic News Service reported this morning via Twitter that the bishop submitted his resignation after he confessed to having fathered two children.

In a letter to the Los Angeles church released early this morning, Archbishop José Gomez wrote that the auxiliary "informed [him] in early December that he is the father of two minor teenage children, who live with their mother in another state."

Since sending his resignation to Benedict shortly thereafter, Zavala "has not been in ministry and will be living privately," the archbishop said. Gomez added that the LA church has offered to assist the teens with "spiritual outreach" as well as their college costs.

While the Irish church was rocked by the 1992 revelation of a son fathered by Bishop Eamon Casey of Galway from a relationship two decades earlier with an American divorceé, and the sitting Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo likewise admitted conceiving a child during his decade as a bishop, today's disclosure is believed to be without precedent on the part of a US prelate.

Named by Blessed John Paul II at age 43 to assist Cardinal Roger Mahony in the nation's largest diocese, the Mexican-born Zavala -- until now the senior auxiliary of the 5 million-member LA fold -- had been in the final year of his term as Chair of Communications for the US bishops.

The longtime bishop-president of the Stateside branch of Pax Christi, he previously made national headlines for advocating a more progressive stance on church teaching in the public square during the 2008 elections, and with a high-profile speech that lambasted "blogs" that "engage in attacks and hurtful, judgmental language... assume the role of Magisterium and judge others in the church" during the 2010 Catholic Press Convention in New Orleans.

Reacting to the news, all one longtime friend of Zavala's among the Angeleno crowd could say was, "I'm numb."

Here below, the fulltext of Gomez's letter detailing the situation, sent this morning to the LA church's clergy and staff:
Dear Brothers and Sisters:

I have some sad and difficult information to share with you. Bishop Gabino Zavala, auxiliary bishop for the San Gabriel Pastoral Region, informed me in early December that he is the father of two minor teenage children, who live with their mother in another state.

Bishop Zavala also told me that he submitted his resignation to the Holy Father in Rome, which was accepted. Since that time, he has not been in ministry and will be living privately.

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. The family's identity is not known to the public, and I wish to respect their right to privacy.

Let us pray for all those impacted by this situation and for each other as we reflect on this letter.

May the Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, grant you peace.

Most Reverend José H. Gomez
Archbishop of Los Angeles
PHOTOS: Ana Venegas/Orange County Register(1); Pax Christi USA (2)