“Robin Hood” Mexican priest in big trouble with his superiors

“Be Alert,” reads the Nov. 1 bulletin at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary church in Los Angeles. “Father Raymundo Figueroa of the Diocese of Tijuana is in this area and is presiding at baptisms and first Communions for a fee of $180 per person. He is here without permission of his bishop.” U.S. churches don’t normally charge for the sacraments unless, as in the case of weddings, there are expenses such as musicians and flowers.

Simony was a common transgression in the Middle Ages, when simonists were condemned to hell in Dante’s “Inferno.” The modern consequences aren’t quite so dire, but in the most serious cases they can include a priest’s suspension.

Figueroa is suspected of organizing ceremonies from Chula Vista to the San Fernando Valley. Fifty to several hundred children at a time receive the sacraments in nonchurch settings, like parks and hotels, people’s living rooms and backyards. Instead of church choirs and organs, strolling mariachis provide the music.

“They just do it in people’s houses. You don’t need much. For baptisms, a little water. For first Communions, you just set up a table,” said Father Richard Zanotti of the Holy Rosary parish in Los Angeles.

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