Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

defamation

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jun 03, 2005

In October of 2003 some parishioners from a church in Merced, California wrote a letter to Fresno Bishop John Steinbock complaining of the misconduct and heterodoxy of their pastor, Fr. Michael Lastiri. The principal signatory received the following response from Bishop Steinbock.

I support Fr. Michael Lastiri as pastor of St. Patrick's. He is a good and dedicated priest, faithful to the magisterium of the Church, living a chaste and faithful life of a good priest. The people of God at St. Patrick's have been blest by his presence and leadership. It is a grave sin against justice to state, "The members of our Parish have been so long without a chaste and faithful pastor..." This is defamation of character. Please refer to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" regarding this, paragraphs 2475 through 2479.

I certainly do not see in your letter the teaching and truth of Jesus Christ. I can only call you, and those who signed such a scandalous letter, to conversion to ask God's pardon and the pardon of your pastor whom you defame so maliciously. I will very much pray for all those who signed the letter, asking God to give them the grace to look within themselves to see how God may be calling them to conversion rather than simply judging and condemning others in generalities.

Don't be shocked, but eight months later Bishop Steinbock removed this same Michael Lastiri from his parish after Roman Catholic Faithful published screen-shots of Lastiri's numerous Internet solicitations for gay sex.

And last week it was revealed that a five-month audit of Lastiri's finances during his 20-month stint as pastor shows he misspent $60,000 -- including $19,881 in personal travel expenses.

Now think for a moment how much traveling -- personal travel, not professional -- a guy has to do to rack up 20,000 dollars' worth in twenty months. Lastiri must have been the pastoral equivalent of an absentee slumlord. And this makes Steinbock's castigation of the lay faithful all the more contemptible. The emphatic censoriousness of his reply could be justified only if he knew Lastiri supremely well or if he had conducted a thorough investigation of Lastiri's ministry and "lifestyle." Yet even a midweek phone call to the parish would have shown that there was no sense in which Lastiri's parishioners were "blest by his presence" and that there were serious problems to be addressed. The faithful were dead right. Steinbock was dead wrong -- and not only wrong, but acerbic in his contempt for falsehoods that were not falsehoods at all.

Before Lastiri's spiritual leadership became public ("big hairy bear visiting Vegas for a couple days of R&R...") Steinbock tagged his parishioners with the sin of scandal and called on them "to ask God's pardon and the pardon of your pastor." Having charged them with malice, and having failed to show a minimum of interest in their pastoral welfare, will Steinbock ask pardon of the faithful? I doubt it. After all, he wrote, "It is a grave sin against justice to state, 'The members of our Parish have been so long without a chaste and faithful pastor'." Most of us would think that this would be a grave sin only if the statement were false.

But then most of us aren't bishops.

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