TLALPAN, Mexico (ChurchMilitant.com) - Less than a week after conducting a young man's funeral mass for his murder, the priest holding the service was arrested as a murder suspect.
Francisco Javier Bautista Avalos, the parish priest at Cristo Salvador Church in Tlalpan, was arrested June 19 for the murder of 29-year-old Hugo Leonardo Avendano Chavez, a deacon at the church. Avendano's strangled body with signs of additional torture was found in his pickup truck near the vicinity of Cristo Salvador, and Avalos was the last person known to be with him.
Bautista informed Avendano's family that he had been missing since June 11, and his body was found on June 13, although available sources list inconsistent dates. The priest performed Avendano's funeral and told reporters, "On behalf of priests of the Church, forgiveness is granted" to the killer.
Police, however, noticed inconsistencies in Bautista's statements and discovered through the surveillance camera footage and the victim's cellphone that the pair had scheduled a meeting immediately before Avendano's disappearance.
Mexico News Daily reported June 17 that police were seeking a suspect in the crime, but would only confirm the suspect was a priest who they said might be attempting to flee the country. The newspaper states that Bautista had been caught on camera driving toward the Mexico City airport shortly after the time Avendano's murder was believed to have been committed.
On June 20, the Mexico City police apprehended Bautista. Mexico News Daily noted that a judge issued an order to place him in preventative custody. Additionally, the newspaper reported: "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."
Bautista has served 15 years at Cristo Salvador and had been a frequent news commentator on religious issues. He was also known for performing exorcisms and authoring several books.
Avendano recently graduated with a master's degree in psychoanalysis, having previously earned a bachelor's degree in theology. He had expressed his desire to become a priest.
Immediately prior to Bautista's arrest, Church authorities released the following statement: "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."