A Los Angeles bishop has handed in his resignation to the Vatican after admitting to having fathered two children against the laws of the Catholic Church.
Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala’s resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday.
Strict Catholic laws require priests to be celibate, although exceptions exist for former Anglican priests married before converting to Catholicism.
The Vatican did not immediately acknowledge the reason for Bishop Zavala’s resignation, but pointed to canon law which allows bishops to retire before the standard age of 75 if they are too ill to continue their service or for other reasons that make them unfit for office, the Catholic News Service revealed.
Bishop Zavala, 60, revealed to his supervisors in December that he is the father of two children, who are now in their teens and living with their mother in another state. Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez shared the news in a letter to the Catholic archdiocese.
In the written statement, featured in the CNS article, Archbishop Gomez reveals: "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," he added.
The letter also says that since handing in his resignation, Bishop Zavala has been "living privately" and has not been present at the ministry.
Zavala has been a supporter of the rights of illegal immigrants in the country, and was one of 33 U.S. Hispanic and Latino Catholic bishops who signed a letter recognizing their struggles and pledging to keep fighting for immigration reform.
There have been several other cases of Catholic priests who have been accused of breaking their vows to the church and fathering children.
A Missouri man filed a lawsuit against a Catholic priest, accusing the Rev. Joseph Matt of having an affair with his wife somewhere between 2004 and 2005 and having a child with her, The Kansas City Star reported in September of last year. The plaintiff also accused the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese of covering up the sexual misconduct case.
Another Catholic priest, from the Diocese of Venice in Florida, was dismissed from St. Leo's Catholic Church in Bonita Springs in July 2010 after allegations that the Rev. Stan Strycharz had fathered a child in secret caused an "uproar" in the church, NBC revealed.
The issue of whether Catholic priests should be allowed to marry or not has caused some debate in the Catholic community. In 2008, a leading Bishop, the Right Rev Malcolm McMahon, Bishop of Nottingham, told the Sunday Telegraph that "There is no reason why priests shouldn't be allowed to marry," and explained that it was a matter of discipline, and not doctrine.
The Bishop added:
"It is a question of justice for those men who want to be priests and to have a wife. Marriage should not bar them from their vocation but they must be married before they are ordained. The justice issue also applies to communities which could be deprived of the Eucharist because there aren’t enough priests.”