Mexico priest suspected in murder of deacon, whose funeral he celebrated

Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 25, 2019 / 05:16 pm (CNA).- Mexico City police have arrested a priest in connection with the murder of a deacon at the priest’s parish, Mexican sources have reported.

Mexico News Daily reported that Fr. Francisco Javier Bautista Ávalos, the parish priest at Cristo Salvador Catholic Church in Tlalpan, Mexico City, was arrested on suspicion of the murder of 29 year-old deacon Hugo Leonardo Avendaño Chávez.

Avendaño had recently graduated from the Intercontinental University in Mexico City and was hoping to resume his studies for the priesthood at the seminary. He disappeared June 11, and was found dead in his truck on June 13 with signs of torture and strangulation, Newsweek reported.

The deacon was last seen on June 11 leaving the church with Bautista. Authorities are currently investigating the cellphone and financial records of Avendaño to try to gain more insight into his murder. They believe he was dead just hours after he disappeared, Mexican sources report.

The brother of Avendaño told Mexican source El Universal that the murder had clearly been planned, and that it was not a crime of passion. He said his brother’s body showed indications of asphyxiation, and that there were signs of torture, including a broken nose and missing teeth.

“Leonardo was a seminarian, he had no problems with anyone, is what most dismays us,” Josue Vincente, Avendaño’s brother, told El Universal.

Bautista celebrated Avendaño’s funeral on June 14.

“We are sad, but at the same time, we have faith, and it gives us strength to know that he is with God,” the priest said at the Mass, according to Mexico News Daily.

However, inconsistencies in the priest’s testimony after speaking with the authorities prompted the police to begin searching for the priest as a suspect in the murder on June 16. Bautista was found on June 19 on his way to the airport. Authorities believe he had been trying to avoid arrest by fleeing the country, Newsweek reported.

According to Mexico News Daily, authorities believe that a personal conflict between the priest and the deacon led to the murder, while family members of Avendaño have said they believe Avendaño was killed to prevent him from coming forward with accusations against Bautista, of an unspecified nature.

Roughly 150 of Bautista’s parishioners stood outside the courtroom during the priest’s initial hearing to protest his arrest, El Universal reported.

On the day of Bautista’s arrest, the Archdiocese of Mexico City released a statement, saying that they are following the case closely, and are entrusting the legal investigation to authorities, in hopes that it will be “effective, rigorous, and…respectful of the guarantees and human rights of the victims, their families and those who are eventually charged with some alleged responsibility.”

The archdiocese also offered their full cooperation in the investigation and expressed “profound closeness to those who have been affected by violence and lack of security in our country.”

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