Most of us know Joe Paterno was fired after a 61-year career in the wake of a child abuse scandal involving a member of his coaching staff. (The university president Graham Spanier was also fired.)
Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Zavala resigned after admitting he had fathered two children, who are now teenagers. The Vatican accepted the resignation on Jan. 4.
Archbishop Sanchez, a native son of New Mexico, was the first U.S.-born Hispanic archbishop. He was appointed to Sante Fe on July 25, 1974, and served until his resignation on April 6, 1993. This happened, as Catholic News Service reported, after at least five women alleged that they had been sexually abused by the archbishop during the 1970s and early 1980s.
Of course, these events are not the only events in these three men’s lives.
“Faith and family were so important to Joe Paterno,” said Bishop Mark Bartchak of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown (Pa.), after Paterno’s death.
CNS quoted Bishop Bartchak as further expressing appreciation to Paterno and his wife, Sue, for their support of the diocese and the new Catholic campus ministry center at Penn State, which is being named the Suzanne Pohland Paterno Catholic Student Faith Center.
Bishop Zavala was, at the time of his resignation, bishop-president of Pax Christi USA, a post he had held since 2003. He was a leader in social justice issues, including workers’ rights, and was a canon law professor at Loyola Marymount. He had been auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles since 1994 and had also, as CNS reported, co-chaired Encuentro 2000, the U.S. bishops’ jubilee year gathering to celebrate ethnic diversity.
Archbishop Sanchez was a native son of New Mexico. CNS noted that he had served as secretary of what is now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and as a consultor to the Pontifical Commission for Migration and Tourism at the Vatican. The Sante Fe New Mexican also reported that the archbishop had founded what is now the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, served on the U.S. Bishops’ Committee for Hispanic Affairs and helped write their pastoral letter on Hispanics in the United States (“The Hispanic Presence: Challenge and Commitment”), been appointed by Pope John Paul II to the Vatican’s Commission on Immigration Affairs and established an Office for Native American Ministry in his archdiocese.
All this shows that each of these men, in his own fashion, had served the Lord and his church. They had done many good things.
But all their work has forever been marred by mistakes — some big mistakes. In some way, each man had missed “the narrow way.” Despite their many gifts, opportunities and resources.
So what do they now have to say to us — we who do not have the power or financial resources of a university position, or high placement in the church?
That even the mighty fail? That all the good we strive so hard to do can be wiped out by one mistake — or by many mistakes?
Perhaps. But any of those answers makes a judgment on these men. And that isn’t for us. For, as Matthew reminds us: “stop judging, that you may not be judged” (7:1).
No, what we can learn from Joe Paterno, Archbishop Sanchez and Bishop Zavala is that we can all fall; that we never know when we will be tested; that it is very, very hard to follow the Lord’s path at every moment of every day of our entire lives. In fact, it’s impossible.
But as Jesus said, “For God, all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
After all, when Jesus spoke about the narrow way, he was on his own narrow way. He was headed to Calvary. He knows what the narrow way, in all its forms, is like. And he’s ready to help us through it. Because it’s not our strength — or position or training or experience, or even our death — that matters, it’s his.