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Renowned Latino theologian accused of abuse dies, suicide suspected

Photo of the Rev. Virgilio Elizondo, who died on March 14, 2016, courtesy of the Archdiocese of San Antonio
Photo of the Rev. Virgilio Elizondo, who died on March 14, 2016, courtesy of the Archdiocese of San Antonio

Photo of the Rev. Virgilio Elizondo, who died on March 14, 2016, courtesy of the Archdiocese of San Antonio

(RNS) The Rev. Virgilio Elizondo, a Mexican-American Catholic priest described as “the father of U.S. Latino religious thought,” has died, reportedly by suicide, nearly a year after he was accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a boy 30 years ago.

Elizondo, a native of San Antonio who taught at the University of Notre Dame, was found dead in San Antonio on Monday (March 14), according to authorities and media reports.

No official cause of death was given, though several reports on Tuesday cited church sources saying Elizondo had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

San Antonio police also confirmed to local media that they had responded to a report of a shooting at Elizondo’s home at 1:55pm local time and that the priest was pronounced dead less than 10 minutes later.

Elizondo’s longtime friend and administrative assistant, Janie Dillard, told the San Antonio Express-News that the priest, who was 80, “died of a broken heart.”

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller said in a statement that he was “stunned by the news” of Elizondo’s death, which he said was “an occasion for great sorrow, as his death was sudden and unexpected.”

Elizondo had been accused in a lawsuit filed in Bexar County last May of sexually abusing an unidentified boy who had come to him 30 years ago to report abuse at the hands of another priest.

Elizondo denied the allegation and vowed to prove his innocence.

“It could never be (true),” Dillard told the San Antonio newspaper, which reported the news late Monday as word of Elizondo’s death and possible suicide began circulating through Catholic circles from Texas to Notre Dame.

A Catholic News Service story last year on the accusations against Elizondo said that the professor of pastoral and Hispanic theology at Notre Dame was “the foremost interpreter of U.S. Latino religion by the national and international media.”

But Elizondo was more than an academic and well-known author.

The son of Mexican immigrants, he worked on behalf of underpaid Mexican-American laborers in the San Antonio archdiocese during the early 1970s, and he founded the Mexican American Cultural Center for pastoral leaders from the United States and Latin America to study.

As CNS reported, when he was pastor of the San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio he presided over a Spanish Mass that was broadcast to more than 1 million households.

(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS)

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • Long have I listened to him and read his book and my love for his priestly efforts endures. Among Latinos he was one whose theology I trusted and he remains a great scholar and a great human being. Elizondo was a gift to San Antonio. Who among us is without sin? Who among us can judge but God. May God have mercy on his soul and grant him peace. Dios es muy grande. from Angelina

  • 21% of possible abuse cases are turned in by the clergy. 73% of abusers are family members. The final 27% are made up of teachers, Doctors, Lawyers, police, Clergy, etc. Of all reported cases 87% are determined unfounded. 13% are substantiated. Any abuse must be stopped completely but the 87% unfounded must be stopped as well. The question is ‘Why do the cases of abuse against Clergy make the headlines where as the others do not?’ I already know the answer and I wish others did as well. It is staring you in the face.

  • Thomas Ryscavage MD

    ” 21% of possible abuse cases are turned in by the clergy. ”

    This stat should be dismissed out-of-hand. How many cases of clergy sexual abuse are there which are bought-off by $$$$ and don’t make it into this stat.

    Would you please list the source of your stats.

  • Please. Yes, no one is perfect. But if he was repentant he would have resigned 30 years ago. There is no place for this, especially among so-called spiritual leaders.

  • Yes, it would have been a better path to follow through with the trial and accept the consequences. If found guilty, he would have continued as a pastor in prison where he would be needed (if not killed first). And in my mind I question, “who gave him the gun?” Now at the end of the week, I still say he did many positive things that no one else in San Antonio has done and they will stand and continue.
    Latino theology was not his alone and others will have to step up and encourage people to trust in God, be courageous, and be good!

  • People like You are the reason this keeps happening. If it were anyone else you would be screaming for the death penalty. Blind faith.

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