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The devil made him do it? The susp-exorcist

24 June 2019

Notas rojas (police beat news items) are generally paid by the word, which means the writers become brilliantly creative, conveying the simplest information in the most convoluted way possible, and … although Proceso does not really publish that peculiar literary form… there is no way any media outlet in the country can avoid the feeding frenzy for stories about Leonardo Avendaño’s murder two weeks ago. Although at the time, Avendaño’s murder was paired with that of another private university student in Tlalpan, in a country with an anticlerical history, and strong feelings about the role of the Roman Catholic Church, the murder of a seminarian and parish assistant has crowded out the other (not all that exciting) murder. Besides, when the prime suspect is not just any priest (and, yes… one can speculate on the relationship between the young deacon and the aging cleric), but a celebrity, if not one we’d normally read about in the gossip columns, and of a sort that leads to all manner of questions about the survival of folk beliefs in Mexico (as if this kind of celebrity isn’t also found in the United States and elsewhere); a faith healer and exorcist.

And it gets stranger from there.

Freely translated from Carlos Olvera, “El cura acusado de asesinar a Leonardo, experto en “recibimientos” y exorcismos“, Proceso, 22 June 2019.

Monday, Wednesday and Friday, locals and out of towners lined up starting at midnight at the door of Cristo Salvador parish church in Tlalpan, hoping to be received by Father Francisco Javier Bautista Ávalos. Not this week, the 58 year old cleric and reputed faith healer/exorcist having been arrested Saturday on suspicion of involment in the murder parish assistant Leonardo Avendaño, a 29 year old seminarian whose body was found two weeks ago strangled and showing “signs of torture”.

Belivers and neighbors report that on “reception days” the street was “chaos”, overrun with traffic, street vendors and the faithful waiting to see the renouned priest.

Regardless of weather or season, it was common to see mothers and fathers outside the parish with portraits of their children, some addicts, others missing, still others who had been abducted. Some came seeking to cure physical ailments, other to be relieved of spiritual pain, and still other, although less common, seeking to be freed from “demons”.

Streaming in when the church doors were opened about a quarter past six, Father Bautista
began “receiving”, generally hading three or four cases before starting his 8 AM morning Mass. After Mass, the priest continued his sessions.

The reception ritual invoved facing the priest while detailing the complaint, during which Father listened and prayed… his assistant, “Guille”, never more than a few steps away. Then, “in a language I do not know, maybe Latin,” says an assistant, the father would put his hands in front of you, at chest height and without touching you, and would continue to pray.

If necessary, the father nodded to his sexienarian assistant and constant sidekick, “Guille”, who would pull out a bottle of olive oil, or what was said to be holy oils, for the priest to annoint the sufferer and complete his or her “cure”.

“Guille” lives a few blocks from Cristo Salvador and, along with her husband and daughter, sells religious objects and musical Cds in front of the church. She is said to be the one with the gift for detecting “evil” or diagnosing the problem of those Catholics who come to the church.

Fifteen years ago, Bautista Ávalos was the parish priest at another church in the neighborhood, although it is said he was called to Rome to be prepared as an exorcist. The Vatican has been unable to confirm that the priest had any training as an exorcist. Since his return from Rome, his fame as a healer resulted in his being sent on a “retreat”, and reassignment to Cristo Salvador upon his return.

His acts of healing and exorcism, as well as his appearances on television programs specializing in these subjects, and books such as “Psalms and Prayers for Healing. Father Fco. Javier Bautista ” have given him some notority.

Believers say Padre Francisco Javier does not even have to be present to affect a cure. Fernando, a doctor who lived in Puebla at the time claims he was hospitalized and close to death when his grandmother approched the priest in Mexico City. According to Fernando, the priest, his grandmother and “Guille” prayed together:

“The father told her[the grandmother] to think about her grandson. There was the clairvoyant (Guille) with him and he said yes, they did have [Fernando] wrapped in a spider web, and with three demons, poking him. “

Under instruction by the priest, Fernando’s family prayed under an altar dominated by angels (presumably statues of angels) and he began his exorcism: “ … the prayer of liberation”.

According to Fernando’s grandmother, the priest asked Guille what she saw, the response beomg tjat “the demons did not let go… until she saw our Lord Jesus Christ with a hand on someone …” At that point, Father Francisco Javier assured the grandmother that “ tyes, it is our Lord Jesus Christ with your grandson who is already healed, he is already liberated.”

“From that time he has been healthy, as if nothing had happened to him,” said the grandmother, a native of the capital.

Gerardo Guzmán told Proceso he credit Padre Bautista and “Guille” with overcoming his 10 year struggle with alcohol and drugs, which had led to several hospitalizations. The Coyoacán resident agreed to visit the priest with his father in 2011. A neighbor of Guzmán’s said that “We went to see the father. He gladly assisted us. He told [Gerardo] that he was going to do an exorcism if he agreed. He said yes, he made a good confession and after the exorcism I took him home. He asked his parents for forgiveness and he has been clean and sober for 8 or 9 years, with the grace of God that Father Francisco Javier could help him.

Teresa Cortés Islas, from Puebla, relates her story this way:

15 years ago I was suffering from attacks by the enemy, done by my coworkers. I worked in Federal Roads and Bridges (Capufe). My age right now is 60 years. I am retired. ”

When I started to get sick I did not know what was wrong … it was a work of evil. They took out a stretcher.

Then Father Francisco Javier was the one who made me live. I went with him. I told him what happened to me. He generously cured me, helped me, and that is why I am alive.

And nowwhen I get sick, I go to him by phone or by email. I say to him: ‘Father, please pray for me, because I am sick.

He, on three occasions that I was able to go to Mexico, cured me and always gave me his encouragement.

Teresa said that unlike Father Francisco Javier, at the ISSSTE in Puebla [Civil Service health care clinc] they never found anything, and despite her discomfort, and they did not give him any medicine.

She concluded by saying “May God help you. He deserves all the help possible. He is not capable of what they say (Leonardo’s murder).”


On “no reception” days, the 7 AM Mass begins with an anointing of the sick, which attracts not only the local congregation, but, it is said, a sprinkling of celebrites, all seeking cures for their ailments.
“It makes you enter a state of spirituality so strong,” says a parishioner who attended a Mass because of a painful knee problem that made walking difficult. She said, that “while Francisco Javier prayed and anointed her, she saw ‘multicolored lights in her brain´’. Since then, she claims her ailment has disappeared.

On Thursday the 20th there was no “reception” in the parish of Christ the Savior, but there were Catholics, and many. Since the previous night, dozens congregated in the temple with one sole purpose: to pray for Father Francisco Javier, arrested on Wednesday for his alleged involvement in the Leonardo Avendaño, his acolyte and assistant’s, death.

By 9:00 pm, “It seemed like Sunday noon,” said a parishioner of the service, where more than 500 adults and children gathered inside and outside the church to pray for their priest.

Inside and outside the church, believers some kneeling, others tearful, and some more on the edge of anger, raised their pleas that the city police officers did their job right, and let the veteran pastor go.

The news that the Attorney General’s Office of Justice had reported the arrest of Bautista, found after four days of an intense search for the missing cleric.

The parish where the faithful had gone in hopes of remedying their physical and spiritual ills was now in mourning and without their priest. The last they had seen of him was officiating at Leonardo’s funeral mass, the day after he was found stranguled and wrapped in a blanket. The ministry investigation added that the crime was of a “personal nature”.

On Thursday the thirteenth, the believers mourned the 29 year old seminarian. Six days later, they were no longer prayed for Leo, but for the priest who offered the funeral Mass.

Avendaño is remembered as very close to the priest, as well as to a young church organist. Several people have said that Leonardo spoke on behalf of the priest in a financial matter. It was an open secret that Bautista was in poor health, having been hospitalized for bronchopneumonia twice in recent months, and in need of money to pay medical bills.

In addition, Father Bautistas two brothers both died recently, further distracting him from his parish work. While there were substitute priests, none were healers.

Thursday’s Mass was led by Bautista’s friend. Padre Benjamín, on loan from another parish. His sermon was the first indication the faithful had that their parish priest was in custody. The thirty clerics and religious in attendance, and the approximately 200 parishioners were told “We have to support him, we have to be united … with prayer. We are going to ask God for him.”

In the Cristo Salvador parish chursh, where for the last 15 years Francisco Javier celebrated the Eucharist and attended to all, the roles were reversed. Now, the prayers for for him, not the fiathful.

Almost at the same time of the mass, around 50 demonstrators from the neighborhood, placards in hand, demanded Bautista’s release. A second group demonstrated outside the Public Prosecutor’s offices.

The Arquidiocese of Mexico City reiterated it’s complete willingness to provide information required by investigators, while at the same time expressing its concern for those affected by violence and lack of security in our country.

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