Parishioner sues diocese, claims priest defamed him during homily
A priest using his Sunday homily to rail against greed, selfishness and sin is to be expected.
A priest using his Sunday homily to rail against a parishioner?
That's defamation, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by an Algonquin man against a pair of priests and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockford.
Angel R. Llavona claims the Rev. Luis Alfredo Rios of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Crystal Lake impugned his reputation as a good Catholic during an October 2006 homily to get revenge for his criticism of the priest's prior efforts.
"The conduct was truly extreme and outrageous," according to the six-count lawsuit filed in McHenry County court. "Rios intended that the conduct would inflict severe distress or knew that there was a high probability that such conduct would cause such distress."
The lawsuit, which also names St. Thomas Pastor Monsignor Daniel Hermes as a defendant, seeks more than $50,000 in compensatory damages plus additional punitive damages from the priests and diocese.
Rios and co-defendant Monsignor Daniel Hermes were out of town Tuesday and unavailable to discuss the allegations, parish staff said this morning.
Penny Weigert, a spokeswoman for the Rockford Diocese, was not immediately available for comment this morning.
The events leading up to the lawsuit began Sept. 24, 2006, the lawsuit claims, when Llavona attended a Mass conducted by Rios. The next day, court documents state, Llavona called Rios' private phone line and left a message critical of his homily.
"I attended Mass on Sunday and I have seen poor homilies, but yesterday broke all records," Llavona said, according to the lawsuit.
At the time, the lawsuit states, Llavona served as a member of the Religious Education Program at St. Thomas. He also is a teacher at Maine West High School in Park Ridge.
Three days after leaving the message, Llavona attempted to meet with Rios in person, the lawsuit states. The priest, however, refused and Llavona then left him another phone message, this time telling Rios he "ran away" from criticism.
The lawsuit alleges that Rios got his revenge the next Sunday by using his homily to attack Llavona in front of his fellow parishioners. Rios, according to the lawsuit, broadcast the phone messages Llavona left for him earlier in the week and then sharply criticized him.
"This is the person in charge of religious education here last year," Rios reportedly said. "That's why it is no surprise to me we had the kind of religious education we had. That's why we didn't get any altar boys.
"What should we do, send him to Hell or another parish," Rios asked, according to the lawsuit.
Rios repeated the broadcast and comments during a later Mass that day, the lawsuit states.
The comments, Rios claims, caused emotional distress, damaged his reputation as a Catholic and unfairly questioned his skills as a teacher.
The case is scheduled to make its first appearance in court Feb. 11 before Judge Michael Caldwell.