Decorated Notre Dame priest accused of child sexual abuse

By Brandon Kusz
May 27, 2015

[with video]

A decorated priest and member of the University of Notre Dame faculty has been accused of sexually molesting a minor.

The allegations were made in a civil lawsuit filed May 22 in Bexar County, Texas.

The unnamed plaintiff alleges that Father Jesus Armando Dominguez and Father Virgilio Elizondo sexually molested him while he lived in a San Antonio orphanage in the early 1980s.

Elizondo, who became known as the "father of U.S. Latino religious thought," has been a member of the Notre Dame faculty since 2002.

He was also presented with Notre Dame’s highest honor, the Laetare Medal, in 1997.

"I came from a neighborhood where no one thought I would make it out or amount to anything,” he said, in a quote posted on his Notre Dame faculty webpage. “Even as a boy, I knew I wanted to do something good for the world.”

"We can confirm that Father Elizondo is on the faculty, but we have just learned of the allegation," said Paul Browne, vice president for public affairs and communications at Notre Dame. "We are reserving further comment until we examine the plaintiff's San Antonio filing and make further inquiries."

A spokesperson for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) says Elizondo's accolades and good deeds aren't an exemption from the accusations.

"Professional accomplishments don't somehow insulate somebody from these terrible compulsions that child molesters feel to sexually abuse boys and girls," David Clohessy, Executive Director of SNAP said. "The very personality traits that lead us to say, 'Oh it couldn't be father so and so or reverend so and so. They're just so wonderful. They're so loving. They're so giving.' Those very same personality traits that make us believe these men are innocent are the traits they use to win the trust of children and parents and then sexually violate them."

While this is just a civil suit and no criminal charges have been filed against either priest, Clohessy says Notre Dame needs to suspend Elizondo immediately.

"We firmly believe that Notre Dame officials should suspend this priest immediately," Clohessy said. "And aggressively reach out to anybody who many have seen, suspected or suffered from his crimes. Tell them to call law enforcement authorities, not church or university officials. These are alleged crimes. They should be dealt with by the independent professionals in law enforcement. Not by misguided or self serving church or school officials."

The following text is part of the plaintiff's civil suit. It may be uncomfortable to read:

1. At all times material herein, [Defendant Father Jesus Armando] Dominguez was attending seminary to obtain his priesthood at the Assumption Seminary of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

2. Plaintiff was living in a local orphanage that was commonly known as the "bridge", just steps away from the Assumption Seminary.

3. Beginning on or around 1980, when Plaintiff was a minor, Dominguez, then known as "Brother Jesse," began to serve as a father-figure to the Plaintiff, helping him with homework, clothing and food, and treating Plaintiff to the occasional movie. Plaintiff , being on his own, welcomed Dominguez's guidance, giving Dominguez his full trust and respect.

4. Dominguez began to regularly ask Plaintiff to these outings and later accompany him to dormitory, there at the Assumption Seminary. Brother Dominguez gained the trust of Plaintiff by acting as a "father-figure" and taking the Plaintiff to movies and meals. Plaintiff respected and trusted Brother Jesse, due to his respect, trust, and relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.

5. For about two years, Brother Dominguez would end our outings by taking me back to his dormitory quarters, where he would often fondle and masturbate my penis. On occasions, while Plaintiff was in Dominguez's dormitory quarters, Plaintiff would often “come to” to find that Dominguez was fondling and masturbating Plaintiff's penis. This activity occurred on several subsequent occasions until finally Dominguez was more direct with his advances.

6. On one occasion, Brother Dominguez took Plaintiff and a friend to California to visit Disneyland. Little did Plaintiff know, he would be taken on this vacation only to be subject to further abuse. Though they often asked to return to San Antonio, Dominguez kept the boys there for about a month until he finally took them back to the orphanage in San Antonio, Texas.

7. Dominguez's abuse of Plaintiff escalated and became more aggressive and grew to include oral sex. Dominguez continued his assault for approximately two years, with the heinous acts occurring approximately two to three times per week.

8. When Plaintiff questioned Dominguez’s actions, Dominguez would prey on Plaintiff’s fear of Dominguez’s claimed heart condition, often faking an impending heart attack.

9. One evening when Plaintiff’s inquiries proved too much, Dominguez threatened to kill Plaintiff and then kill himself.

10. After this threat, Plaintiff retreated in fear. It was not until about two years later, when Dominguez went to California, where he was officially ordained as priest, that Plaintiff decided to bravely discuss the confusing moments he shared with Dominguez.

11. First, he attempted to discuss the incidents with Archbishop Patrick Flores, then serving as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. However, Archbishop Flores never addressed Plaintiff's fears and concerns. Plaintiff's concerns were dismissed. Plaintiff was never further questioned about the events and no actions were taken. Plaintiff became withdrawn.

12. Later in 1983, Plaintiff was riding back home to the orphanage, after an outing with Father Virgilio Elizondo, then serving at San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas. During the ride home, Plaintiff decided to seek clarity from Father Elizondo regarding his past interactions with the now, Father Dominguez. Unfortunately, instead of listening to him and acting on his concerns, Father Elizondo began to fondle the Plaintiff’s genitals, taking advantage of the same sexual liberties Plaintiff complained of with Father Dominguez. As Father Elizondo reached over, kissed him, and began to fondle him, the Plaintiff immediately became angry, frustrated, scared, and confused because Plaintiff thought that he would help. Instead, he gave the Plaintiff more reasons to feel unsafe within the care and guard of the Roman Catholic Church. Once again, the sexual abuse of the Plaintiff continued.

13. After believing that he was safe from these actions since Father Dominguez had relocated, Plaintiff began to feel uncomfortable and frustrated that these acts were occurring once more. He then fought off Father Elizondo and then ran from his vehicle. Believing that he would only continue to be abused, be dismissed, made ashamed, and be touched again and again, should he ever attempt to seek the assistance of the Church again, the Plaintiff did not reach out to the Roman Catholic Church again for several years.

14. As Plaintiff got older, he was plagued with anger and severe depression, for which he sought therapeutic treatment and had to regularly take medication. On a few occasions, still haunted by the oddities in his past, Plaintiff has attempted suicide. His struggles with debilitating depression and thoughts of suicide still plague him today.

15. Plaintiff attempted to reach out to Victim Assistance and Safe Environment of the Archdiocese of San Antonio and spoke to a gentleman named Steve Martinez. Plaintiff was told a criminal suit would be filed and that someone would be in contact with him. However, just as when Plaintiff was younger, no one has offered any help or has informed him about anything being done.

16. From the time of the abuse and exploitation and through the present time, Plaintiff continuously digressed, emotionally and behaviorally, suffered emotional trauma, anguish, loss of respect for authority, loss of earnings and earning capacity, and commenced upon a self-destructive course of conduct. Plaintiff does not believe that he is of "sound mind".

17. Plaintiff has had trouble maintaining his mental status to keep a job. Plaintiff has been unable to maintain a stable personal relationship. Plaintiff has often been unable to parent his children due to the need to be under the care of a mental health facility. Plaintiff has lost jobs and forfeited close relationships with his loved ones due to his mental status. Each year, these feelings have gotten progressively worse. Plaintiff suffers suffer from multiple forms of substance abuse and addictions. Plaintiff has never truly lived independently. Plaintiff has been unable to fully unable to manage my own financial and familial affairs.

18. Representatives of authority within the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the San Bernardino Diocese were made aware of these acts, yet did nothing to expose these incidents of molestation. Instead, the Representatives continued to facilitate an ongoing cover-up of these acts, until around 2004 when a formal suit was filed against Father Dominguez.

19. Since then, Plaintiff has attempted to attend a Roman Catholic Church but has only been met with increasing depression, often leaving in the middle of the service in tears.


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