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Priest sued over defamation

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. (AP) — A priest who received complaints from a parishioner on his answering machine played the tape in church, a lawsuit alleges, and then asked the congregation: "Should we send him to hell or to another parish?"

The parishioner, Angel Llavona, filed a defamation lawsuit Monday claiming the events at St. Thomas the Apostle Church caused him emotional distress that forced him to leave the Roman Catholic parish.

The dispute started about a year ago, when Llavona left a message for the Rev. Luis Alfredo Rios complaining about a sermon he had given, the lawsuit said. "I attended Mass on Sunday and I have seen poor homilies, but yesterday broke all records," Llavona said.

The lawsuit says Llavona, a high school teacher who helped out with the church's religious education program, tried to meet with Rios. But when the meeting fell apart, he left another complaint on the priest's answering machine.

Llavona said on Oct. 1, 2006, Rios played his voice messages for the congregation.

Then, according to the lawsuit, Rios said: "This is the person in charge of religious education here last year. 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 altar boys. What should we do, should we send him to hell or to another parish?"

Llavona is seeking at least $50,000 in damages. "Rios impugned Llavona's reputation as a teacher and as a good Catholic before his fellow parishioners," the suit said.

Penny Wiegert, a spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockford, said Rios was at a retreat Wednesday and unavailable for comment.

The diocese is also named as a defendant. Wiegert said she couldn't comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but released a diocese statement expressing hope for "a peaceful solution."