Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, who died in apparent suicide, mourned

Father Virgil Elizondo Courtesy of the Archdiocese of San Antonio CNA Father Virgilio Elizondo. Courtesy of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio has released a statement mourning the death of one of his priests, Father Virgilio Elizondo, who was found dead on Monday of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"I join the priests of the Archdiocese of San Antonio as we are deeply saddened and stunned by the news of the death of Father Virgilio Elizondo on March 14," Archbishop Garcia-Siller stated. "This is an occasion for great sorrow, as his death was sudden and unexpected."

Fr. Elizondo, a leader among Hispanic Catholics well-known for his promotion of liberation theology in the United States, was a professor of pastoral and Hispanic theology at the University of Notre Dame. He was found dead at the age of 80 in San Antonio.

A lawsuit had been filed against Fr. Elizondo in May 2015 accusing him of sexually abusing a boy in the 1980s. The priest had denied the allegation and reportedly intended to fight it in court.

Archbishop Garcia-Siller noted that "at this devastatingly sad time for Father Virgil's family – especially his sister – as well as his brother clergy, co-workers and friends, we offer our most profound sympathies. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all. I pray for all those who mourn Father Virgil and for the repose of his soul."

"In this Year of Mercy, we now commend him to the saving mercy of our God, who is compassionate and full of mercy and love. This is most fitting and proper."

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who was Archbishop of San Antonio from 2004 to 2010, stated that "I am very sad to hear the news of Father Virgilio's passing. He was a good friend and a brother priest and I will miss him."

He expressed his gratitude to Fr. Elizondo, saying, "he was generous and kind to me from the time I was a young priest and throughout my years as a bishop. My experience was not unique. Father Virgilio was a scholar with a pastor's heart and he served as a father figure for an entire generation of young Latinos who were trying to make their way in theology and pastoral ministry in the Church."

"His death is a deep loss for the Church," Archbishop Gomez said. "I am praying for him and his family. May the Virgin of Guadalupe, whom he loved so much, embrace him in her maternal compassion."

Fr. Elizondo graduated from St. Mary's University in 1957 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry, and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of San Antonio in 1963. In 1969 he received an M.A. in pastoral studies from Manila's Ateneo University, and in 1978 a doctorate in theology from the Institut Catholique in Paris.

He helped to found the Mexican American Cultural Center, now the Mexican American Catholic College, in 1972, and was rector of San Antonio's cathedral from 1983 – 1995. He was on the editorial board of the journal Concilium from 1979 to 1999, and he had taught at Notre Dame since 1999.

Fr. Elizondo was awarded the John Courtney Murray Award from the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Johannes Quasten Award from the Catholic University of America, and the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame. The Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States have established a prize in his name.

His faculty page at Notre Dame notes that he "has been very instrumental in TV work and video productions and is considered the leading interpreter of U.S. Latino religion by the national and international media."

Among his numerous books were Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise, The Future is Mestizo: Life Where Cultures Meet, and Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation. A collection of his essays, Beyond Borders: Writings of Virgilio Elizondo and Friends, includes a foreword by Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, widely regarded as the father of liberation theology.

The abuse allegation against Fr. Elizondo was made by a man who says he was molested by Jesus Armando Dominguez from 1980-83 while he lived at an orphanage. Dominguez was then a seminarian. The man claims he told Fr. Elizondo about the abuse, and the priest himself then molested him in turn.

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