The Mexico City Attorney General’s Office (PGJ) is searching for a priest who is the main suspect in the murder last week of 29-year-old student Leonardo Avendaño.
The PGJ has not released the suspect’s name, but confirmed that he is a priest and that he may try to flee the country.
According to the magazine Huellas de México, the suspect is Francisco Javier Bautista, parish priest at the Cristo Salvador Church where Avendaño was a deacon. Bautista was last seen in public on Friday, when he led Avendaño’s funeral service at Cristo Salvador.
Avendaño was last seen leaving his house in Iztapalapa on the night of June 11 to meet the suspect at the church, in the borough of Tlalpan.
After meeting at the church, the two left together. Two days later, Avendaño was found dead in his pickup truck in a neighborhood near the church, showing signs of torture and asphyxiation. Authorities said he was killed a few hours after he disappeared.
Mexico City prosecutors say they have security camera footage of the suspect driving towards the Mexico City airport, presumably after having committed the murder. Immigration authorities have issued an alert to prevent him from leaving the country.
Bautista has led the Cristo Salvador parish for 15 years and he is known among the city’s Catholic community for having published several books and being a frequent source for press reports about religion.
According to a report by the BBC in 2013, Bautista is a practitioner of exorcisms, and blames the Santa Muerte cult for violence in Mexico.
Avendaño had recently finished a master’s degree in psychoanalysis at the Intercontinental University, which is run by the Guadalupe Missionaries. He had previously studied in a Catholic seminary and had planned to return to the seminary after finishing his master’s.
Before Bautista’s alleged involvement was made public, the Mexican Bishops’ Conference (CEM) issued a statement condemning the murders of Avendaño and of Norberto Ronquillo, a 22-year-old student who was kidnapped and found dead earlier this month.
In the statement, the CEM asked the authorities to address violence and insecurity, and asked Catholics “not to be indifferent to the pain of others and to continue building peace.”