Elderly pro-lifer arrested for trespass at his San Mateo parish pleads not guilty; trial set for Jan. 22

Ross Foti, the pro-life activist arrested after coming onto the grounds of St. Matthew’s Church in San Mateo last November, pleaded not guilty to charges of trespass on Dec. 27.   Foti, 73, has long been a controversial figure at St. Matthew’s. Last year, parents of children at the parish school began complaining about Foti’s truck, displaying graphic signs of aborted babies, which he parked on a public street adjacent to the school.  In September, Foti, at the request of St. Matthew’s pastor, Fr. Anthony McGuire, agreed to cover the offending signs on his truck when it was parked near the church. Later, when Foti, according to McGuire, reneged on a promise never to attend the Friday children’s’ Mass (Foti said the ban was temporary), McGuire told him he was permanently banned from the parish.

When Foti later came to Mass on Tuesday, Nov. 13, McGuire had him arrested for trespass. Foti said he had attended two Masses the previous Saturday and had received communion from McGuire, but the priest had not had him arrested then. McGuire, however, claimed that he could do nothing about Foti on that Saturday, since Foti had left the church before he could speak with him.  Scheduled to appear for a pre-trial conference on Jan. 10 and a jury trial on Jan. 22, Foti could face a fine and up to a year in jail if convicted on two counts of misdemeanor trespass. But, according to his lawyer, Katie Short of Life Legal Defense, the prosecution is “charging him under a statute that prohibits entering and occupying real property or premises. That’s entering and occupying,” said Short, “and that means, basically, taking up residence. It’s very difficult to make out a case of criminal trespass in California.”

According to the San Mateo Daily Journal, Foti, who wants to be able to attend Mass at St. Matthew’s, would like to take his case before a court of canon law and pursue a civil suit for defamation of character. Foti “would like to pursue a canon law remedy,” said Short, but as for the claim that he wants to pursue a civil suit, “I don’t know where that’s coming from.”  The question for the canonical court would be whether McGuire had the authority to forbid Foti to come to the parish. “Ross did write to the vicar for clergy of the archdiocese [of San Francisco],” said Short, “and he got a letter back that said, ‘I write to tell you that I support [Fr. McGuire’s] request that you withdraw permanently from St. Matthew Church. As pastor Fr. McGuire does have the right to make this decision and he does so after taking into account the best interests of all members of the parish and school community.’”

When she read the letter, Short said she thought, “Wow, what you’re saying is, somebody doesn’t have to have done anything legally wrong, canonically wrong; a pastor can decide to expel someone ‘in the best interests of the community.’ I frankly think that is something people should know. It puts in a whole new light this tolerance of pro-abortion politicians. Wouldn’t it be in the best interests of a parish that it not be scandalized by the presence of pro-abortion politicians?”