Note: This concludes the four-part series. If you like, you can download the entire essay as an Ebook by scrolling to the bottom of this page.
It started out as a case of two men kissing at the Chico’s Tacos restaurant on June 29, 2009 that mushroomed into a citywide debate about gay rights. By the time the dust had settled, the mayor and two city representatives were facing a recall that was settled by the intervention of the courts. Intermixed in the highly charged debates and recriminations, that included questions about police training, the rights of restaurants to refuse service, religious organizations arguing religious doctrine in government and not to mention gay rights, was a Catholic Priest named Michael Rodriguez.
No matter your position on the gay-rights issue or whether a Catholic Priest should have the right, under Church protocols to perform that Latin Mass, what I want us to focus on is the process that the Diocese of El Paso has undertaken with Michael Rodriguez. Remember, part of corruption is to deflect away from the central issue into a debate about civic rights that has nothing to do with a priest versus Church authority.
Let us focus on the process the Church has undertaken to silence a priest.
There is no doubt that Michael Rodriguez became vocally involved in the debate about gay rights that was raging in El Paso after the Chico’s incident. Whether he violated Church doctrine or authority is something that only the Church faithful and the Church authority can answer.
Michael Rodriguez wrote various editorials about homosexuality that were published in the El Paso Times in 2011. He professed a position against the gay lifestyle.
According to a newspaper report on September 1, 2011, the Diocese of El Paso’s vicar general and moderator of the curia for the diocese, Anthony C. Celinio, argued that Rodriguez’ writings were Rodriguez’ “personal views and opinions.” Although the Diocese did not specifically discount the writings as being against Church Doctrine, it took the position that the Diocese “is not taking and cannot take a side in the recall effort,” he was referring to the recall of Susie Byrd, John Cook and Steve Ortega.
On September 29, 2011, Michael Rodriguez was removed as the administrator of San Juan Bautista Catholic Church and reassigned to a parish in Presidio, Texas. Rodriguez had been at San Juan for about nine years. According to an El Paso Times article by Aaron Bracamontes, who quoted Armando X. Ochoa, the Bishop of the El Paso Diocese, as stating that Rodriguez’ reassignment was the result of “getting personally involved” in the recall.
On January 14, 2012, the El Paso Times reported that Armando X. Ochoa had filed a civil lawsuit against Michael Rodriguez. Ochoa, who was formally the Bishop of the El Paso Diocese, alleged in the lawsuit that Michael Rodriguez had not accounted for $27,000 in Church funds. The newspaper article by Marty Schladen dated January 14, 2012, pointed out that the El Paso Diocese had removed Rodriguez because of his involvement with the recall effort but that the lawsuit contradicted that initial announcement. Instead, according to the newspaper, the removal was the result of an attempt that church officials may “have tried to conceal” that a priest had “allegedly misused parish money.” Instead of Rodriguez being removed for becoming involved in the recall effort, as originally explained by the Diocese, the Diocese now claimed through the newspaper that the removal was “because of financial discrepancies.”
Did you notice how the Diocese had changed the reasons for the removal? If you keep reading the newspaper account, you will also notice that the Diocese admits not asking the police to investigate the theft they were alleging even though they had taken the unusual step of filing a civil lawsuit, outside of the Church’s protocol.
The thing about using lies to cover up corruption is that the truth invariably eventually surfaces; however, before it does the original lie must be changed as new developments arise. A lie cannot stand on itself and it must be molded as it is challenged.
Was the alleged theft the truth, or is there more to the story?
So far Rodriguez’ removal has evolved from his involvement in the recall effort to allegations of theft and the Diocese working outside of its own processes yet not fully involving the proper officials such as the police department to investigate. Why is that?
On January 12, 2012, Michael Rodriguez responded to the lawsuit with a press release. In his press release, Rodriguez denied misusing church funds and adds that it is his belief that the real reason for Ochoa filing the lawsuit was because of Rodriguez’ “defense of the Catholic Church’s teachings with regard to homosexuality” as well as his “adherence to the Roman Liturgy of 1962.”
Both the Diocese and Rodriguez agree that Rodriguez had turned over to the Diocese approximately $200,000 in church funds. The point of contention is $27,000.
On January 27, 2012, five members of the San Juan Bautista Parish file as interveners in the Ochoa vs. Rodriguez lawsuit. The parishioners sued Ochoa and Arturo Bañuelos by intervening in the lawsuit that they had filed against Rodriguez.
In the lawsuit the parishioners allege that starting in 2007 they and other parishioners started making “restricted pledges” to the church to build an alter for the “Usus Antiquior of the Roman Rite” mass, or the traditional service where the priest faced the alter as opposed to today’s version where the priest faces the parishioners. The parishioners argued in their lawsuit that the monies donated “were restricted” to the alter modification and could “not be used for any other purpose.”
In the lawsuit, the parishioners contended that they made $46,090 in restricted donations. They added that on “September 24, 2011, MOST REVEREND ARMANDO X. OCHOA and MSGR ARTURO J BAÑUELAS demanded and received the sum of $238,575.97 from FR. MICHAEL E. RODRIGUEZ.” The parishioners contended that the sum included the monies they had specifically requested be kept separate from the Diocese funds.
With questions about Michael Rodriguez’ official status in the Catholic Church, because of the controversy about the allegations about missing monies, the Diocese of El Paso issued a letter to the Diocese of Charlotte on July 8, 2013 attesting that Rodriguez “is a priest in good standing.” The letter adds, “that nothing in his background in any way limits or disqualifies him” from the ministry.
On November 10, 2014, the Diocese of El Paso removed Rodriguez as the Administrator of Sacred Heart Mission that is in Presidio and ordered him to undertake a six-month sabbatical. Although he remains in good standing within the Diocese of El Paso, essentially he was not functioning as a priest in good standing.
Remember that in a civil lawsuit filed by the former bishop along with Arturo Bañuelos in January 2012 Diocese officials were alleging that Rodriguez had stolen money from his former parish. Yet, the Diocese issued a letter to another diocese letting them know that Michael Rodriguez is in good standing with the Diocese.
Not only is this contradictory but if the allegations are true then it shows an attempt to cover up wrongdoing by sending the priest elsewhere without disclosing the allegations.
However, it is not as simple as that.
The former El Paso bishop went outside of the church to allege wrongdoing by one of his former priests. The bishop filed a civil lawsuit alleging theft of money yet did not file a criminal complaint against the alleged thief. Furthermore, as you can tell by the letter and the lawsuit, the Diocese of El Paso was not pursuing Rodriguez for the money, but rather it was the former bishop of El Paso and another church official. Why?
As of May of this year and according to a family member of Rodriguez, the lawsuit and Michael Rodriguez’s sabbatical are on some type of “holding pattern” with no action on either front. It is important to note that under the Catholic Church’s hierarchy the bishop; in this case Armando Ochoa wields considerable power on where a priest is placed. On one hand, Rodriguez is on sabbatical, kind of like limbo, while facing allegations of wrongdoing outside of the Church’s internal mechanisms. Keep in mind that the Diocese considers him in good standing but nonetheless keeps Rodriguez in limbo as to his future. In the meantime, the lawsuit filed against him is continuously delayed.
Everything about this case is a classic example of a corrupt cover up by church officials. Through innuendo, the legal system and especially delaying tactics it appears that the case of Michael Rodriguez is a case of ostracizing a priest because he became vocal in a political debacle. Rather than address the matter through the proper channels of the Church, it seems like a personal vendetta has been initiated by a former bishop with the tacit support of the officials of the Diocese of El Paso and by extension the Catholic Church.
The cover up lies in the fact that allegations have been levied but rather than prove them one way or the other through the normal channels, the church processes or the legal system; instead the allegations are left while the answers are delayed for as long as possible.
By all measures of common sense, Michael Rodriguez is being punished by church officials bypassing the systems and thus it appears corrupt in nature.
I realize that this is a really long series and it involves many uncomfortable aspects of religion, sexual abuse and El Paso politics. I felt it was important to give you as much detail as possible without overwhelming you. There is so much more information that I did not include here.
The reason I found this so important is that it starts to answer the question of how the corruption is incubated in El Paso by what is supposed to be the moral compass of the community’s consciousness. The Diocese of El Paso has for years systematically taught through its actions that corruption is not only the way Catholics should behave but also gives power to those in authority over the city.
I realize those are strong words but consider the following.
Almost everyone has heard the whispers of corruption in El Paso. There are numerous instances of corrupt activities in the city, some prosecuted and others ignored. The business community was “shocked” to read that former Ft. Bliss commander Dana Pittard was reprimanded for activities that can best be defined as corrupt. This is the same business community that gave Bob Jones an award for his business astuteness.
While many were arguing that Larry Medina was corrupt, he was being bestowed the Conquistador Award. The office of the Texas Attorney General, that advocates ignoring the highest court of the country, is the same agency that agrees with the City of El Paso that Steve Ortega may keep the government files in his possession.
Basically, it is a culture of corruption that doesn’t understand that it is corrupt.
A culture is incubated and encouraged through education. Corruption is a moral dilemma and one of the largest authorities of the moral compass is the Church that coincidently has shown to be corrupt for many years.
How can you eradicate the culture of corruption if the corruptors also includes the Church?
I would like to take this opportunity to offer a heartfelt thanks to an individual that has asked me to keep him anonymous although this series would have been impossible without his willingness to answer my questions and for sharing the dossier, he put together that is the basis of this series. Much of what I do is based on research and the fact of the matter is the research takes an ordinate amount of time. Without the dossier that the individual shared with me, it is unlikely I would have written these articles.
Many times many of you offer me leads and information that leads to many of my blog posts. I get the credit but the fact remains that those of you who share their information with me deserve the credit. I always ask you if you want me to give you credit and almost always the answer is a request to keep you anonymous. I understand why but know that although I many not give you credit by name that your unselfishness and willingness to share your data with me is something I am grateful for every day.
The complete essay is in PDF format and can be downloaded by click here.
1. First person account from an anonymous source about what he witnessed. The accounts are derived from various interviews in May, June and July 2015.
2. Podles, Leon J.; Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church; Crossland Press, 2008
3. Mendham Borough Police Memorandum addressed to “Whom it May Concern” and dated November 21, 2011.
4. Letter dated November 27, 2011 from Robert Francis McEnroe to Mrs. Villaseñor with copies to Armando Ochoa and Francis Smith.
5. Mendham Borough Police Department Investigation Reports starting on February 11, 2005 and ending March 29, 2005. Eleven pages of police reports. Department case number: 2005/02786.