Ex-parishioner files defamation suit against Roman Catholic Priest

Christian teachings have long stressed the importance of forgiveness, but a conflict last year between a former parishioner and a priest at a Catholic church in Crystal Lake has ended in court instead of a confessional.

The dispute seems to have started in September 2006, when Angel Llavano, a former parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, left a voice mail message for Rev. Luis Alfredo Rios, an associate pastor, criticizing one of his homilies.

“I attended mass on Sunday and I have seen poor homilies, but yesterday broke all records,” Llavona said, according to a defamation lawsuit that Llavona filed Monday in McHenry County Circuit Court.

Rios responded by playing a recording of Llavona’s phone messages during a mass, then criticized him in front of the congregation, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit alleges that Rios told the congregation, “What should we do? Should we send him to hell or to another parish?”

Although priests and parishioners have tussled throughout the history of the Roman Catholic Church, a legal case involving accusations made from the pulpit is highly unusual, said Allen Shoenberger, a law professor at Loyola University in Chicago.

“I’ve never heard of this happening,” Shoenberger said.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Law & Legal Issues, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

7 comments on “Ex-parishioner files defamation suit against Roman Catholic Priest

  1. the roman says:

    I think Fr. Rios was playing to the crowd. Perhaps Mr. Llavona should grow some thicker skin. Es macht nichts.

  2. Chris Molter says:

    I’d really like to hear what the specific complaints re: the homily were.

  3. Mike Watson says:

    The conduct described here seems pretty extreme but defamation cases arising out of church discipline situations do arise from time to time in which a church’s rights prevail. See Westbrook v. Penley recently decided by the Texas Supreme Court for an example. http://www.supreme.courts.state.tx.us/historical/2007/jun/040838.htm These cases involve some of the same constitutional issues that arise in the property cases.

  4. TomRightmyer says:

    Louie Crew, forunder of Integrity, did something similar to me a while ago, but I chose not to take further action. And Kim Byham, an Integrity flack, tried to get me fired from a church job. My sympathies are with the priest.

    Tom Rightmyer in Asheville, NC

  5. loonpond says:

    I disagree, “accusations made from the pulpit” are demagogery. Holding up a parishioner to ridicule from the pulpit puts the parishioner into a position where any response makes him look foolish. After all, the parishioner did not criticise the priest publicly. The priest is being petty. This is an abuse of the pulpit.

  6. teatime says:

    I absolutely agree, #5. The priest’s actions served NO purpose except to harm and humiliate and it’s a travesty that he did this from the pulpit. Also, it was a display of “power,” meant to silence and intimidate anyone who might want to criticize him in the future. This priest has problems.

  7. Rocks says:

    I too would like to know the details of the parishioner complaints about the homilies. By the same token if this actually occurred DURING Mass, and not before or after, then there is no way I could support this priest in his continuation as a parish priest. The priest had every right to make public this parishioner’s concerns as they effect the community of the church. But he should have used any other means than a Mass, such as a blog or parish meeting, to discuss these things.
    Instead of consulting a lawyer on whether it was okay to do this the priest should have been consulting his Bishop or confessor. If he had I am sure he would have received much different advice.
    The parishioner should agree to drop this case though if the priest agrees, as he most certainly should, to announce that he was wrong to misuse a Mass in such a fashion. The Mass is not a vehicle for airing disputes. I think a sabbatical would not be out of order either.