Parishioner Sues Priest for Statements in Homily

You can never forget to leave your business card at home as a lawyer, even when going to mass it seems. In Chicago, Rev. Luis Alfredo Rios, a Catholic priest at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, was upset with a phone message left by parishioner Angel Llavona, who did not like his last sermon. This was one angel’s call however that Rios was not willing to let go. He was so mad that he proceeded to play the message as part of his next homily, asking the parish, “What should we do? Should we send him to hell or to another parish?”
Angel, a teacher at Maine West High School in Des Plaines, is now claiming emotional distress, embarrassment, and humiliation and seeking $50,000.
What is as interesting as Angel’s willingness to turn to litigation is Rios’ sensitivity. Angel’s message said, “Father Rios, this is Angel Llavona. I attended mass on Sunday and I have seen poor homilies, but yesterday broke all records.” I have hear a lot worse after speeches or classes. Rios even attacked Angel’s position as a teacher in two homilies. According to the complaint, Rios observed, “This is the person in charge of religious education here last year. That’s why it is no surprise to me [that] we had the kind of religious education we had. That’s why we didn’t get altar boys. What should we do? Should we send him to hell or to another parish?”
In many states, one party’s consent is sufficient to engage in such surveillance, though other states require both parties to consent. This, however, was not hidden eavesdropping. Generally, a phone message left on a machine does not include an expectation of privacy, particularly if left at a multiple person dwelling like a rectory. What is particularly fascinating is that I have been called on another claim of defamation of parishioners in Chicago by a Chicago priest, who accused them of a campaign to destroy him. Priests in Chicago seem to have become more like cable show hosts since I left that windy city.

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