A priest wanted in connection with the murder of 29-year-old deacon Leonardo Avendaño has been arrested by Mexico City police.
Francisco Javier Bautista Ávalos, parish priest at the Cristo Salvador church in the Tlalpan borough of Mexico City where the victim was a deacon, had reported Avendaño’s disappearance to the deacon’s family on June 11.
After Avendaño was found dead in his pickup truck the next day, Bautista led the victim’s funeral service, and expressed hope that the murderer would be caught.
“We are sad, but at the same time, we have faith, and it gives us strength to know that he is with God,” said Bautista at the service.
But after interviewing the priest, police began noting inconsistencies in his testimony, and after reviewing messages on Avendaño’s cellphone discovered that the two had met the night Avendaño went missing. Police began searching for the priest on June 16.
Today, a judge ordered that he be held in preventative custody.
Authorities indicated that the motive for the crime was a personal conflict, but Avendaño’s family say that the murder was premeditated, and was an attempt to prevent Avendaño from going public with certain accusations.
The Archdiocese of Mexico released a statement promising to cooperate with the authorities in the investigation.
“The Catholic Church in Mexico City trusts that the work of the authorities tasked with the investigation and prosecution will be effective, rigorous and respectful of the law and human rights of the victims, the families and those who are eventually charged with the crime,” read the statement.
Avendaño had recently graduated from the Intercontinental University with a master’s degree in psychoanalysis. He had previously completed a bachelor’s degree in theology from the same institution, and he had hoped to study to become a priest himself.
Mexico City Attorney General Ernestina Godoy will hold a press conference today where she will make public more details of the case.
Supporters of the jailed priest protested today in Mexico City carrying placards to demand his release. “We are with you, Father,” read one.