|Some Parishioners Say Accused Priest a Nice Guy
By Bob Campbell
December 31, 2009
Named as the central figure in a child sexual abuse lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Angelo, the late Rev. David Espitia was remembered by some Wednesday as a friendly man who some of his former parishioners had difficulty believing could have be guilty.
He had been pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Colorado City and St. Joseph’s Mission Church at nearby Loraine for almost four years and was about to be transferred to Odessa when found hanged in his apartment June 13, 2003. Espitia’s death was ruled a suicide.
The first diocesan priest assigned to St. Ann’s after decades of service there by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, he is accused of molesting a boy during a previous assignment, in the 340th District Court petition filed by attorneys Tahira Khan Merritt of Dallas and Tom Rhodes of San Antonio. Unspecified damages are sought.
Representing “John Doe No. 1,” the suit says the 49-year-old priest had just told Bishop Michael Pfeifer of San Angelo he was falsely accused and that a suicide note and his computer were confiscated by investigators. The presiding judge is District Judge Jay Weatherby.
A Tom Green County deputy district clerk said Wednesday the diocese has 20 days to respond and hadn’t identified an attorney. Efforts to reach Merritt and Rhodes were unsuccessful.
Mitchell County Commissioner Jesse Munoz Jr. of Colorado City, a longtime St. Ann’s parishioner, recalled Wednesday that the town of some 4,200 people 80 miles east of Midland off Interstate 20 was rocked by three more suicides in 2003 – a male member of his church, a woman school counselor and a county jail inmate who had just been incarcerated.
“It was a shock because David was a real nice guy, very intelligent and a good singer with a real good voice,” said Munoz. “He was a talented priest and very well liked. I got along with him very well.”
When asked his view of the dispute, Munoz said, “I have no opinion because all that came later.”
The late Colorado City Police Chief Pat Taylor said after Espitia’s death that none of his behavior had come under suspicion there, according to 2003 reports.
Pfeifer issued a Tuesday statement that he was “dismayed by the claim the diocese and I personally are somehow responsible for some claimed sexual abuse of a minor child by the late Father Espitia.
“We stress very strongly our constant concern for the victims of sexual abuse and have always been willing to offer proper assistance to such victims.”
Espitia, a Coleman native, is buried in the priests’ section of Calvary Cemetery in San Angelo, according to diocese records.
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