SAN ANTONIO — A former University of Notre Dame theology professor accused of sexually abusing a boy in the 1980s characterized his suicide as "a farewell gift" he hoped would "bring healing to anyone that (he) might have hurt."
That is according to a suicide letter an attorney for the Rev. Virgilio Elizondo's accuser released to the San Antonio Express-News, the paper reported Tuesday.
Elizondo shot himself in the head and died March 14, according to San Antonio police. Elizondo was found with a suicide letter nearby and his finger still on the trigger, the Express-News reported.
In life, the 80-year-old Elizondo had vehemently denied the allegations put forth by a San Antonio man in a lawsuit. The man, who has not been identified, lived in a San Antonio orphanage as a child. The accuser says he was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of another priest, the Rev. Jesus Armando Dominguez, from 1980 to 1983. The accuser says he sought counsel in 1983 from Elizondo, who was then a priest at the San Fernando Cathedral, about what Dominguez had done to him, but Elizondo kissed and fondled him. The man's lawsuit named both priests and the Archdiocese of San Antonio as defendants.
According to the lawsuit, Dominguez would molest the boy multiple times per week. If the boy complained, Dominguez would feign a heart attack, or threaten to kill the boy and himself, the lawsuit claims. Dominguez later served as a priest in Los Angeles before being defrocked and charged with 58 criminal counts of sexual abuse, according to the Los Angeles Times. Dominguez disappeared, and police believed he had fled to Mexico, The Times reported.
Elizondo had been a theology professor at Notre Dame since 2000. Elizondo last taught at Notre Dame in the spring of 2015, according to the university.
"Extolled as a founder of U.S. Latino religious thought, Father Elizondo was hailed in Time magazine as one of the leading spiritual innovators in the United States," a Notre Dame memoriam stated. "Yet when he shared his beliefs about the connections between religion and people, he would recall the grocery store his immigrant parents owned in San Antonio, where he spent most of his life. 'I came from a neighborhood where no one thought I would make it out or amount to anything,' he said. 'Even as a boy, I knew I wanted to do something good for the world.' ”
In 1997, Notre Dame awarded him the Laetare Medal, known as the oldest and most prestigious award for American Catholics.
Thomas Henry, the attorney representing Elizondo's accuser, said the letter reveals the priest's mindset at the time of his suicide, the Express-News reported.
"To anyone whom I have ever offended, I beg your forgiveness and mercy," the letter reads. "It was never my intention to hurt anyone. My greatest pain is that I have hurt others, especially those I love the most. I am a sinner in need of forgiveness and mercy."
The letter also references worsening physical health, as well as his life spent dedicated to serving others, particularly "the elderly, the immigrant, the minorities and the poor."
Henry told the Express-News he was disappointed Elizondo had killed himself. "The taking of Father Elizondo's deposition could have led us to the truth regarding his actions," the attorney said. "And his untimely death at this juncture raises even more questions. We will continue to seek and uncover the facts of this matter."