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Mayor Mario Guerra's acrimonious battle with the local fire union took a personal turn last week when the mayor was removed as deacon at St. Raymond's Catholic Church.
Guerra announced the news to the Downey congregation this past weekend. He has been reassigned as a stational deacon at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angeles in downtown Los Angeles.
The union representing Downey firefighters has had a rocky relationship with the mayor since last summer, when the City Council commissioned a study on a possible switch to L.A. County Fire. The results of that study are expected back in the next week or two.
Guerra has been the fire union's most vocal critic and has vowed to oppose any proposal to disband the Downey Fire Department.
The fire union accused Guerra of taking his personal viewpoints to the pulpit and lodged a complaint with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The union, however, denies it had a direct role in Guerra's removal from St. Raymond's.
"We don't have that kind of power," said Steve Davis, president of the Downey firefighters union. "Mario called me a flat-out liar at his town hall meeting. He has called me a bully and a union thug. Downey firemen think he is handling himself in a manner unbecoming of a deacon."
"In order to be removed as a deacon in the city you must have done something wrong," Davis added. "The Archdiocese must have found evidence to support it."
Guerra denies the allegations. He said he twice offered to resign from the city council in order to remain at St. Raymond's but the resignation was declined by the archbishop.
St. Raymond's declined to comment for this story. The Archdiocese, however, confirmed Guerra is in good standing with the Catholic Church.
"As a deacon of the Archdiocese, Deacon Mario is being assigned a new parish where he will bring his ministerial gifts," the Archdiocese said in a statement. "Deacon Mario remains in full and good standing as a deacon of the Archdiocese. We are grateful for his willingness to be of service to the greater Church."
St. Raymond's pastor, Father John Higgins, resigned as chaplain of the Downey Fire Department on Monday. No reason was given for the resignation.
Guerra and his wife, Ann, have been parishioners of St. Raymond's for 30 years. Their five children each attended St. Raymond's School, including their youngest son who is now in the eighth grade.
"We are called to serve the people of God and after almost 11 years as your deacon we are being asked to continue with our ministries at another parish," Guerra said in a statement e-mailed to parishioners. "This is not our decision and we are saddened because we will miss all of our friends but we will always be available to help in any way possible, now and in the future. We have not done anything wrong of course and we will help our parish during this transition period."