Freddy was a model student, one of those who appeared every year on the honor roll. He was interested in history, geography and languages. The world beyond Manizales, the mountainous city surrounded by coffee plantations in which he had been born in the early seventies, seemed exciting to him. That is why that priest who had traveled so much, who spoke English and French and who had visited the most beautiful museums that exist, left him open-mouthed when he told his stories. “He earned my trust, I admired him. He took advantage of that to abuse me, ”says Freddy now, 40 years later.
He was not aware of what really happened to him until very recently. She locked it up under lock and key in some corner of her brain. Being the victim of a predator, she understood later, by going to therapy, she delayed her sexuality until she was 30 years old. She lived up to that moment with the weight of indeterminacy, teasing from her classmates, prying eyes, questions about girlfriends. He did not fit into any of these conventions. In a city that glorifies bullfights and processions of virgins in mantillas, Freddy Leonardo Franco practiced introspection through the reading of encyclopedias.
Freddy studied at the Colegio de Cristo, run by the Marist brothers, between 1982 and 1987. The building, crowned by the name of the institution in red letters, faced a vacant lot full of opossums that came out of hiding at night to sniff around in the garbage cans. By then it had ceased to be the elitist institution where the city’s wealthiest families studied, although its old prestige was still intact. Wearing his uniform was a mark of distinction.
The priest Mario González Álzate was enormously popular in that small provincial universe. A good part of school life revolved around him. He was walking across the patio in a cloud of cigarette smoke, drawing attention from other adults by ordering glasses of milk at the bar. He was not a Marist brother, although he was a teacher and chaplain. He had been there since 1975, according to information provided by the school. He taught Spanish, religion, physical education, spelling, philosophy, drawing, history and for a time he was a tutor for a group. He lacked almost nothing to do.
He gave off, according to those who knew him, an intellectual aura. Grey-haired, skinny and with bony hands, about 60 years old at the time we are talking about, he recounted his many readings and his experiences in a sophisticated world that seemed so far away from this place nestled in the Andes mountain range. In his library he kept books impossible to find anywhere else. To understand the importance of that, you have to be transported to a world without the Internet or urgent shipments from Amazon. González Álzate became friends with Freddy and his family and on his account established Friday nights as the official time for his visit.
Those nights he went without fail to the house of the Idárraga Guevara. The stories she told, Freddy recalls, were so good at first that even the neighbors came to listen to them. He told them about Europe, Jerusalem and other places that Freddy dreamed of knowing. The family enjoyed these visits, but at the same time got caught up in their constancy. Freddy’s parents were forced to change dinners, trips, family commitments. González Álzate did not fail, rain or shine. At that time he invited Freddy to do homework at his apartment after school.
On one of those afternoons, the priest called him from his room. “I went with all innocence and found him in a robe. He opened it and she was in her underwear. I didn’t understand what was going on. I realized that her virile member was erect. I was scared by the size. He was an underdeveloped child and that seemed big, intimidating. She discovered herself and left it on the air. He touched himself and he touched me,” says Freddy.
That disturbed him. He stopped going there to study, but he didn’t tell anyone. He began to avoid the priest’s presence at school. González Álzate did not take the hint and continued with the visit on Fridays. The stories that sounded dazzling at first gradually lost their shine. The neighbors hid so as not to be invited to these gatherings. The atmosphere became soporific. On one occasion, the boy had a fever and was resting in bed. The priest entered the room and directly, with his hands under the blanket, grabbed his penis. “While he was doing it, my mother came in, but she didn’t see him. He talked to her about her while about the remedies with which she could improve, ”she recalls.
Freddy describes his mother as intuitive, a woman who “catch them in the air”. As the days went by, he became aware of his son’s suspicious behavior. He saw it weird. One day he insisted so much that the boy ended up telling him everything between sobs. The mother also began to cry. She asked him if she had penetrated him. He said no, and she told him exactly what had happened. She picked up the phone and twiddled the dial with her fingers. Freddy doesn’t know exactly what she said to the priest, but he is gone from his life forever.
So they were a courageous mother and a proud child. That set fire to their relationship for the rest of their lives.
“I don’t want to make a scandal. I don’t want people to stop believing in God or in the Church because of this. Not at all. But I do want it to be known that here in Colombia, in Manizales, there were abusive priests. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
Freddy Franco is today an outgoing 50-year-old man. He wears tinted glasses and a tailored jacket that he gives an air of who he is, a college professor. He has not lost the look of having left home read. He now walks with determined steps through a city where everyone greets him and shows admiration for his work. It wasn’t always like this. At school he felt harassed, not only by the priest, but also by his classmates. Thin, small, delicate, as he describes himself, he was the victim of the teasing. Nobody stopped that. At the university, which he entered at 15 due to his high IQ, the scheme was repeated. “Everyone told me that he was gay and I blamed the priest for that. He had converted me? I hated him for it.”
He had a hard time being honest with himself, he says. He thought about suicide. Some therapists advised her to reverse his latent sexuality. At 34 he openly accepted that he was homosexual. “He made me a little angry because those who had bullied me were right. As smart as I’m supposed to be, I hadn’t realized it. It felt like a defeat. But over time he has freed me and I have realized that the abuse had nothing to do with it. It is absurd to think that, but the head sometimes sets traps for you, ”he continues.
Her abuser is dead and buried. The students of his time speak of rumors about the behavior of González Álzate, but Freddy has been the only one to take the step. The priest’s resume, which the college has provided to this newspaper, is impeccable. It is full of observations of this type: good colleague, collaborator, responsible, punctual (it is not a minor matter in Colombia), suitable (it is not specified in what), respectful, good discipline, concerned. The institution is not aware of other complaints or complaints against him. Two teachers of the time have only good words about him, although one of them claims to have heard some stories about it. In short, the priest was never sanctioned or investigated.
González Álzate’s work went beyond school. From 1984 to 1991 he was auxiliary priest in the parish of San Antonio de Padua, in the center of Manizales. His name appears along with 21 other priests. He officiated masses, baptisms and weddings. His passage here leaves, among his acquaintances, a string of commonplaces that can be applied to half of humanity. A seven-minute walk away is a reinforced concrete Neo-Gothic cathedral designed by a French architect. His influence made all the surrounding buildings look like they were taken from a central Paris block. Further down, with a flatter and more forgettable architecture, stands the building in which the priest lived. There it is, facing the street, the apartment to which he invited the boys to study.
There is a sign on the window that says Is in rent.
If you know of any case of sexual abuse in the Church in Latin America that has not seen the light of day, write to us with your complaint at [email protected]. If it is a case in Spain, write to us at [email protected].
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