When I awakened this morning, during my morning prayer I thought of writing a blog entry on the announcement earlier today in Rome that Mother Theresa of Calcutta would be canonized on September 4, 2016 by Pope Francis. No surprise there, of course, as both the votum of the Holy Father and the date have been expected for weeks. To me, early this morning, it was something worth pondering, and it still is.
But upon arrival at the office today, I received the news of the death by his own hand of Father Virgil Elizondo, a priest of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas, and a distinguished professor of pastoral theology at Notre Dame University. He has been a friend for many years, at times close when we would see each other at meetings in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, and at times distant due to my work as a bishop and his as a teacher. Generally, whenever I was on campus, I would try to see Virgil.
Born of migrant worker parents and raised in the economically poorest of circumstances, Father Virgil proved from the earliest age to have some genius qualities about him. After ordination, he would be sent to earn a doctorate degree at the Institute Catholique in Paris, France. In his home archdiocese, he would begin the Mexican-American Cultural Center where theology, language, Hispanic culture and pastoral outreach to the growing Hispanic population in the United States would be offered, studied and applied.
When I took Saint John Paul II to San Antonio on the hottest of days in September, 1987, he was the Rector of the San Fernando Cathedral where the Pope made a visit upon his arrival. On that occasion I had to referee a logistics match between my friend the Rector and my friend Father Roberto Tucci, S.J. (later a Cardinal), the head of the Vatican Advance and Planning Team about what the Pope might do once inside the Cathedral. It was awkward, difficult, and torrid, indicating the depth of feeling Father Elizondo held for what might end up being the Hispanic Catholic moment during the San Antonio visit.
I saw him only three times after he went to Notre Dame, having been awarded the prestigious Laetare Medal by the University previously. He was immensely happy at ND but flew home to San Antonio almost every week-end on Friday and back on Sunday to be with his people. For Virgil Elizondo, the Church was the only hope for a people desperately in need of hope.
Approximately one year ago, a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of San Antonio and against Father Elizondo was filed in which it was alleged that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor over thirty years prior. He maintained his innocence but was personally devastated. Although at the time the allegation received wide-spread publicity throughout San Antonio and the church in the United States, it is my understanding that no one else has come forward to make a similar allegation (it is my experience that there is almost always more than one victim though one is one too many.)
As the movie SPOTLIGHT has pointed out, it does take a village and often more than one person to abuse a child. Father Virgil Elizondo took his own life with his own hands, also an unspeakable tragedy. Many, many victims have done the same in recent years, each a horrific tragedy and so have many perpetrators as well. I trust in the mercy of God to help each and every one and will leave it to God to judge. For me and this morning for many others, we shall always wonder but also remember.