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Fired pastor tip of L.A. iceberg.

Turmoil over conflict-of-vestments suit

ALHAMBRA, Calif. - They still talk of the day he was with the schoolchildren in the yard and kicked the ball through the third-grade window. And how they knew he was around because the smell of his pipe smoke was in the air. How he'd removed the asbestos from one school building and, even when he knew the archdiocese was removing him as pastor, he still saw to it that the carpet was laid for the student computer room.

He understood this middle- and working-class parish, the sacrifices the parents were making to get their children into Catholic school and keep them there, and he had unified the parish into feeling the same way.

All Souls, by parishioners' and priests' accounts, was in sad shape when Monsignor Joe Alzugaray arrived in October 1990. For a while it flourished; there was joy. No more.

What happened is a parish tragedy that could be repeated in almost any diocese in the United States where a pastor can be ousted without due process; parishioners have been ignored by disinterested chanceries, their letters unanswered by aloof church bureaucrats and their appeals fallen on the deaf ears of remote bishops and archbishops.

This drama centers on All Souls Parish in Alhambra, Los Angeles County.

Last year, without explanation, the archdiocese ousted Alzugaray. For months the parishioners bombarded Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony and the papal nuncio and others with letters; there were videotaped appeals by the parishioners for information and for their pastor's return.

What gradually became known, as parishioners obtained a copy of a letter written by fellow parishioner and parish finance-council member Roger Carmody, was that his letter had triggered the pastor's removal and dismissal.

Making matters more complicated, two former parishioners, William Turbay and Richard Rock, have issued a multicount suit including a libel charge against Carmody, who, the plaintiffs allege, has accused them and the pastor of embezzlement. Carmody countersued for defamation, but that suit was dismissed Feb. 19.

The mess gets messier, for the backdrop includes the Byzantine world of church-goods suppliers - the people who sell miters (the pointed hats bishops wear), chasubles (the sleeveless, capelike garment priests put on over their heads before saying Mass) and crosiers (ornate shepherds' crooks used as staffs of office) to bishops, and sometimes decorate and design churches.

Turbay and Rock, it happens, are also partners in the church-goods firm of Martinez and Murphey, which traces its origins to the time the two men went into business and began peddling chasubles door-to-door at San Francisco rectories. Carmody is an accountant for Ostrow, Bauch, Firestone & Carmody, whose clients include the church-goods suppliers Cotter Church Supplies Inc.

What color chasubles?

All Souls bought $100,000 worth of goods and services from Martinez and Murphey in less than 18 months (and nothing from Cotter) - but Turbay and Rock were not pushing Alzugaray for the money because the parish, which still owes them $57,000, was broke.

The Turbay-Rock suit also includes Cotter as a member of "the Carmody conspiracy." Mixed in with all this is Wall Street and "hot concept" stocks, liturgical rivalries and jealousies surrounding major archdiocesan functions in Dodgers Stadium, disagreements over whether bishops would wear red or white chasubles during the papal visit, the shabby state of the 2,500 sets of papal and episcopal vestments at St. Peter's Basilica that Turbay and Rock were asked to freely replace (they gave 200 sets) and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

People had been coming back to All Souls. The pastor had to add a Sunday Mass; where there once had been six altar boys there were 57; there was music at every Mass; the weekly collection income was moving up, especially from donations, from its earlier $3,200-plus; and there was promise of stable income from land being rented to the city of Alhambra.

Several young men had signed up for the seminary; the parish school was healthier than it had been in years, and, because a pest-control regimen had been adopted, the cockroaches had disappeared from the church hall.

They're back.

Alzugaray is "one hell of a (fine) priest," an elderly male parishioner said on the video that was hand-delivered to the chancery for Mahony. Other parishioners attested that Alzugaray was uniting the ethnically and culturally diverse parish in a manner never before experienced.

Alzugaray had the reputation of being "one hell of a preacher, too." It was said Alzugaray would joke that he liked preaching four and five Masses on a Sunday because, "it takes me about three times to get it right."

One thing's for certain, whatever else might have happened for five months, it appears the archdiocese callously or carelessly hung Alzugaray out to spin in the wind, never publicly accused of anything, never publicly exonerated, his reputation seemingly blown to smithereens by rumors of every hue.

Not until his fellow priests of the deanery remonstrated in a September 1992 letter to the cardinal was Alzugaray given another position. Scandalous rumors were widespread, reported All Souls parishioners who go to other parishes where people would repeat the rumors and ask: "What!s in on at All Souls?"

What went on? No one, it seems, has had the decency to give the parishioners even a partial answer. They have simply been ignored.

Until April, the part-time All Souls Parish administrator is still Monsignor Douglas Ferraro, head of archdiocesan pastoral services. Ferraro was instructed by archdiocesan attorneys not to respond to a request for an interview. Alzugaray did not return telephone calls. Carmody did not respond to interview requests.
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Title Annotation:Monsignor Joe Alzugaray; All Souls Parish, Alhambra, California
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Mar 12, 1993
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