Wednesday, February 1, 2012

El Paso: Curiouser and Curiouser

What in the world is going on in El Paso?

Bishop Ochoa is suing Fr. Michael Rodriguez…

A group of lay faithful are suing Bishop Ochoa…

Fr. Michael Rodriguez once again spoke against homosexual “marriage” at a City Council meeting…

According to the Diocese of Fresno website, Bishop Ochoa will be installed as the new bishop there on February 2…

According to the El Paso Times, Bishop Ochoa has also been appointed the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of El Paso, beginning the day after his February 2 installation as Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno.

Taking this confusing list of issues one at a time, consider the lawsuit problems. I have written about Ochoa’s lawsuit against Fr. Rodriguez here and here…just a few thoughts on what this civil suit might mean for the Church.

The El Paso lay faithful’s contention is that they donated money for a particular purpose in their parish, and that Bishop Ochoa must either use the moneys for the designated purpose, or return the funds to the donors. Dr. Ed Peters at In the Light of the Law has now commented on this aspect of the issue. He notes:

Now, because parishes are “juridic persons” distinct from dioceses (see cc. 373 and 515 § 3), and because a pastor is the administrator of the goods of a parish (c. 532), any specially-designated donations made to a pastor/parish can be used by that parish only for the purpose expressed.** If the donations truly cannot be used for the purpose collected, the prudent course would seem to be to consult the donors about a redesignation of their gift (GB&I Comm 716) or, that failing, even to return the gifts.

But if the canon law in such matters is fairly straightforward, the facts of such cases tend to get very blurry, very quickly. Some of the questions that occurred to me as I read the above news story included: Were the funds solicited, and if so, by whom and how? What stipulations, if any, were actually attached to these gifts? To whom or what were the donations actually made? Where are the funds now, how did they get there, and why?

Read the full text of his comments here.

Personally, I still think the whole civil lawsuit idea is ill-advised, but since Bishop Ochoa took it into that arena, it seems to me that the lay faithful – who appear to have a valid claim – have little choice but to follow Ochoa’s lead, or forfeit their money to purposes which they may not support.

The issue of Bishop Ochoa’s dual citizenship intrigues me. He will be the Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno and the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of El Paso…at the same time.  

As Steve Kellmyer notes in a Jan. 13 post (his emphases):

…Ochoa may well lose standing as a claimant in the lawsuit within the next two weeks, since he will no longer be part of the diocese.

Once Ochoa has formally left, the only power in the diocese will be that of the diocesan administrator, as El Paso waits for a new bishop. What power does a diocesan administrator have?

Can. 428 §1. When a see is vacant, nothing is to be altered.
§2. Those who temporarily care for the governance of the diocese are forbidden to do anything which can be prejudicial in some way to the diocese or episcopal rights. They, and consequently all others, are specifically prohibited, whether personally or through another, from removing or destroying any documents of the diocesan curia or from changing anything in them.

Clearly, Ochoa wanted to pursue Father Rodriguez in the few days left to him. But is beginning a civil legal action prejudicial to the episcopal rights of the as-yet-unnamed incoming bishop? Does Ochoa have the canonical power to lay this lawsuit?

The news that Bishop Ochoa has been named Apostolic Administrator of El Paso casts a different light on things now. I certainly have no idea what makes Rome tick, but is it possible that the desire is to leave Ochoa in charge in El Paso in order for him to clean up the mess he’s made there?

And so, just like the old TV shows I used to watch as a kid, we’ll end this post with…

…to be continued…

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