Mass Remembers Theology Professor Fr. Elizondo
By Catherine Owers
April 8, 2016
Notre Dame faculty, staff and students gathered in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart for Thursday afternoon for a Mass in memory of theology professor Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, who died March 14 in San Antonio.
Elizondo, the University of Notre Dame professor of Pastoral and Hispanic Theology, is widely considered the founder of U.S. Latino theology and received the 1997 Laetare Medal. University President Fr. John Jenkins celebrated the Mass, and Fr. Daniel Groody, director of immigration initiatives for the Institute for Latino Studies, delivered the homily.
Groody said Elizondo was a man who was devoted to relationships, gave generously and “greeted people with open arms.”
“Wherever he went, he often could be found around a table, gathering people together, forming new relationships, discussing new ideas,” he said.
Elizondo’s death was ruled a suicide, according to a South Bend Tribune report. Elizondo was named in a 2015 San Antonio civil suit alleging Elizondo sexually abused the unnamed plaintiff when he was a minor, according to a report originally run by WSBT. Elizondo last taught at the University during the spring 2015 term, University spokesperson Dennis Brown said in an email.
The lawsuit was filed against the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Fr. Jesus Armando Dominguez and Elizondo in Bexar County district court. It alleges Dominguez repeatedly sexually abused the plaintiff, listed as “John Doe” in the 1980s. When the plaintiff asked Elizondo for help dealing with Dominguez’s abuse in 1983, the lawsuit alleges “Elizondo began to fondle the Plaintiff’s genitals, taking advantage of the same sexual liberties Plaintiff complained of with Father Dominguez.”
In his homily, Groody spoke on the allegations of sexual abuse made against Elizondo last year.
“In May of last year, a man came forward with allegations that he was sexually, repeatedly abused by a priest more than 30 years ago. If such allegations are true, it’s an egregious injustice against this human being. That priest, however, was not Virgil Elizondo,” he said. “These allegations [were] against another priest who fled the country and was never heard from again. Virgil later became connected to the allegations through one disputed incident of the plaintiff, which Virgil completely denied. He was brought into this case not because he was a serial abuser, but because he was a highly visible, accomplished, respected cleric. … This one accusation put the spotlight entirely on Virgil.”
Groody said that Elizondo, who lived an “abundantly fruitful life,” but the weight of the allegations “eventually crushed him.”
“During this time, Virgil became not only the embodiment of his Christological synthesis, but even our deepest fears as human beings. He became the reject,” he said. “To our eyes, he appeared to reject the last moment of his life — even those closest to him do not know the reasons why he took his life.”
Those who gather to remember Elizondo “affirm in faith that even as he went through rejection in this life, God did not reject him in the world to come,” Groody said.
“And as we have struggled in these weeks, ultimately realizing that the final question about Virgil can never be, ‘Why did he take his own life?’” he said. “The central question must always be, ‘How did he give us life?’”