“Between Consenting Adults”

January 6, 2012

Many of you have probably heard about the resignation of Catholic Bishop Gabino Zavala.  You may have heard of it without even becoming aware of it, because it is the type of news that no longer attracts special attention.  Another day, another sex scandal for the Catholic Church.  Nowadays, weather reports are likely to be more memorable.

But there was something different this time.  Something different in how the spokesman for the Church tried to diminish the significance of Zavala’s actions.  The Church spokesman said that the relationship was “between consenting adults and that no church funds were used” in connection with the relationship.  (So Zavala did not embezzle from Peter’s Pence to fund the affair.) 

From a secular perspective, the statement that the relationship was “between consenting adults” is relevant information.  Indeed, from a secular humanist perspective, the fact that sexual conduct is between consenting adults is arguably the most important factor in determining whether the conduct has any moral implications. Presumptively, sex between consenting adults is no one else’s business.  (There are exceptions, but there is no need to specify them here.) 

But why is this relevant to the Catholic Church? From the Church’s perspective, fornication remains immoral, and it becomes a grievous moral wrong when it’s indulged in by a priest who has taken a vow of celibacy. Consent doesn’t alleviate the sinful nature of the conduct.

In a strange way, I’m encouraged by the spin used by the Church’s spokesman. It suggests that perhaps—just perhaps—the Church is not completely out of touch with modern times and secular moral reasoning.

On the other hand, maybe the Church is going easy on Zavala because he fathered two children. I can picture the Church officials now: “Thank God—Zavala didn’t use contraception.” That would have been unforgiveable.