Crime & Justice

Colombian determined to identify priest who abused her son

By Irene Escudero

Bogota, Mar 24 (EFE).- Nearly five years after her son’s suicide, Patricia Osorio remains in pursuit of the identity of the priest who abused 11-year-old Daniel when he was a student at one of the most prestigious Catholic schools in the Colombian capital.

“I am leaving because I am tired of the life I have … As a boy I was abused at school. They wanted to make me a prostitute,” Daniel – by then a university student – wrote his mother when he swallowed pills in an unsuccessful attempt at suicide.

Looking back, Patricia, herself a teacher by profession, speaks of Daniel’s enrollment at Colegio San Viator as if he fell into the hands of criminals.

Blond and blue-eyed, Daniel “had the face of an angel,” his mother tells Efe while holding a photo album full of images from his youth.

Like many victims of clerical sexual abuse, Daniel was the child of a single mother and Patricia worked long hours to support him and his sister, Diana.

Daniel was in the fifth grade when he told Patricia after school one day that the priests had taken him to their residence.

From then on, she began to notice changes in his behavior. Daniel grew quiet, lost interest in playing and sports, and his grades plummeted.

While the teachers said that Daniel was “distracted,” his mother knew that something had happened, but she could not get him to talk about it.

By the time he entered university, Daniel was struggling with severe depression and none of the 10 mental health professionals Patricia took him to was able to help.

The revelation about abuse in the note he wrote before taking pills spurred Patricia and Diana to file a criminal complaint, but Daniel, fearing retribution, was unwilling to say who had abused him.

He took the secret to his grave, committing suicide at the age of 21.

The priests who molested Daniel effectively ended his life, Patricia says. “Shooting him would have been preferable.”

She accuses Colombian prosecutors of not wanting to investigate sexual abuse of children even as more and more cases come to light.

Mauricio Zambrano, a physical education teacher at Colegio Marymount, an exclusive Catholic girls school in Bogota, was recently released pending trial on charges that he molested a 14-year-old student and tried to seduce others.

Cases involving accusations of clerical abuse are particularly difficult because Colombia’s Catholic hierarchy continues to protect pedophile priests.

“From the top down, from cardinal to the former president and former vice president of the Bishops Conference, the Colombian Catholic Church is completely rotten,” investigative journalist Juan Pablo Barrientos told Efe.

Based on what he has found in the confidence files of many dioceses, he estimates that between 20 percent and 30 percent of priests in Colombia have been accused of sexually abusing children or adolescents.

And the alleged abusers remain in the church, with no punishment and no restrictions on their interaction with children, according to Barrientos, author of the book “Dejad que los niños vengan a mi” (Suffer little children to come unto me). EFE ime/dr

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