Bishop Reassigns Texas Priest Who Waded Into Partisan Politics

An El Paso, Texas, priest who intervened in an effort to recall the mayor and two city council members has been reassigned to another part of the state.

The Rev. Michael Rodriguez of San Juan Bautista Church placed ads in the El Paso Times criticizing gay rights. He also spoke out on behalf of an effort being sponsored by a fundamentalist Christian church to recall Mayor John Cook and council members Steve Ortega and Susie Byrd.

Rodriguez publicly challenged Cook, Ortega and Byrd to a debate “on issues related to the upcoming recall election.”

Cook, Ortega and Byrd have been targeted by Pastor Tom Brown of Word of Life Church. Brown circulated recall petitions and used a ministry website to promote the recall. Brown is upset because the three supported a measure to give health benefits to the partners of city employees, even if they are not married.

Americans United has reported Brown’s ministry to the Internal Revenue Service for illegal partisan politicking.

Rodriguez jumped into the matter shortly afterwards. He placed four ads in the newspaper, attacking gays and asserting that they are engaged in sinful activities. In one of the ads, he asserted it was “clear” how Catholics should vote in the recall election.

In late September, El Paso Bishop Armando X. Ochoa announced that Rodriguez was being reassigned to Presidio, a west Texas town of 4,100 residents about 250 miles away from El Paso.

A press release issued by the diocese noted that Rodriguez had “recently challenged certain City officials to participate with him in a partisan debate on issues related to an upcoming recall election.”

Continued the release, “This type of intervention in the political process by religious organizations such as the Diocese of El Paso and San Juan Bautista Church is not permitted under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Fr. Rodriguez’s proposed debate raised serious issues regarding whether his participation could be attributed to the Diocese of El Paso and San Juan Bautista Church.”

Rodriguez, who served as an administrator at the parish, issued a statement saying he would comply with the order.