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Texas bishop sues priest, charges financial mismanagement

Catholic World News - January 16, 2012

In a highly unusual move, the outgoing Bishop of El Paso, Texas, has filed a lawsuit against one of his priests, charging him with misuse of parish funds.

Bishop Armando Ochoa charged that Father Michael Rodriguez failed to follow diocesan rules for the handling of funds at San Juan Bautista parish, and has not produced a full accounting of parish donations. The priest’s brother, David Rodriguez, is also named in the bishop’s complaint.

The legal complaint charges that Father Rodriguez solicited money for bank accounts opened in his own name rather than that of the parish, and provided unexplained benefits for his brother and his mother using parish funds.

According to the bishop’s complaint, Father Rodriguez was removed from his assignment as San Juan Bautista parish because of questions about his management of parish finances. But at the time of the priest’s removal from that parish, in September 2011, the El Paso diocese indicated that the pastor was being reassigned because he had become involved in a political campaign against the city’s mayor and other political leaders. Father Rodriguez had taken out advertisements in the city’s newspaper to denounce the politicians for their support of providing benefits to partners in same-sex unions.

Father Rodriguez insiste that he is innocent of any financial wrongdoing. In a public statement he charged that the bishop’s suit reflects a longstanding hostility toward him because of his political stand and because of his use of the Extraordinary Form of the Latin liturgy. “Finally,” he said, “I am convinced that the real reason for my former bishop’s actions against me is due to my defense of the Catholic Church’s teaching with regard to homosexuality as well as my adherence to the Roman Liturgy of 1962.”

Bishop Ochoa was named on December 1 to become the new Bishop of Fresno, California. Since he has not yet been installed in that post, he remains his administrative authority over the El Paso diocese. The lawsuit appears to be his final effort to settle a conflict before leaving the diocese to his successor.

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