While paging through News of the Weird, this caught my eye because I’ve been to this church before.

Ex-parishioner Angel Llavano, who had left a phone message for Father Luis Alfredo Rios criticizing one of his homilies, filed a defamation of character lawsuit in September after Father Rios retaliated by denouncing him in front of the Crystal Lake, Ill., congregation. Asked Rios (perhaps rhetorically), “Should we send (Llavano) to hell or to another parish?” [Chicago Tribune, 10-3-07]

After reading through a longer write-up from the local paper, I was thoroughly angry at both parties involved, each for their own actions.

It’s not particularly uncommon for sermons to rub someone the wrong way. The only way to avoid this is to water down the teaching of the Faith so much that one presents a talk that is both useless to give and to receive. While merely offending your congregation is not the sign of a good homilist; good homilists tend to get on the wrong side of the oversensitive in their communities on a fairly regular basis. Commonly, oversensitive parishioners tend to be involved somehow in parish education — an interesting correlation.

I don’t know either of these men. I don’t have a clue what Fr. Rios’ sermon, Mr. Llavano’s voice message, or Fr. Rios’ response contained aside from what was reported in the articles. I do know that there are better alternatives. If not the parishioner, then the priest should have known better. I’ve seen this situation begin on a handful of occasions, and I’ve seen it handled very well, and now also very poorly. Feelings get hurt, pride gets injured, but public retaliation is out of the question when the harm is only against you.

The Catholic response is: You praise in public, you admonish in private. End of lesson. When involved in an argument, you should never be the one to escalate a private dispute to a more public setting. If you need to make a public comment about an incident, you say nothing that could identify the other party in question — just discuss the incident.

To take a page from our Evangelical friends, (and as a background primer for our non-Christian readers) both men in question should know, being adult Christians and doubly so for both being teachers of the faith, these very straightforward and applicable Biblical passages.

Matt XVIII:15

“If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.”

Luke VI:29

“To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.”

Matt V:25

“Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.”

Now, as a result of failing to remember things that any good kindergartener knows, they both look like petulant children in a name-calling contest. Real men don’t need to go to court to settle petty disputes. They can sit down over a beer and work it out.

I would complain about how the only news anyone prints about Christians is bad news, but a priest unable to resolve a complaint about his sermon in a manly fashion is rightly a topic for News of the Weird, because it’s that rare. The vast majority of priests handle this properly without making national headlines out of it. Perhaps he had a bad week; perhaps he had a bad pizza the night before; but now he’s certainly having bad weeks as he’s getting hauled into the offices of the pastor and bishop for some remedial instruction…

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