New Book Exposes YMCA Founder's Dark Past Skip to content

New Book Exposes YMCA Founder’s Dark Past

By Ragnar Tómas

Friðrik Friðriksson
Photo: Séra Friðrik (Screenshot from RÚV).

A new book authored by historian Guðmundur Magnússon alleges that Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson, founder of YMCA/YWCA Iceland, made sexual advances towards a minor. Following an interview with the author on the Kilja literary programme on RÚV, the YMCA/YWCA leadership expressed shock and commitment to uncovering the truth. A spokesperson for Stígamót has said that more individuals had sought professional counselling because of Reverend Friðrik.

Friðrik and his boys

A new book by historian Guðmundur Magnússon about Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson – an Icelandic priest who founded YMCA/YWCA Iceland and the athletic clubs Haukar and Valur – reveals that Friðrik made sexual advances towards a minor. Guðmundur was a guest of journalist and presenter Egill Helgason on the Kiljan programme on RÚV on Wednesday night where he discussed his new book, Reverend Friðrik and His Boys.

The boy in question, now in his eighties, contacted Guðmundur during his writing of the book, which examines Friðrik’s relationship with the boys, his attraction to them, and other material that could be considered sensitive.

“It’s true, I’m entering somewhat unknown territories, at least compared to what I have written before,” Guðmundur admitted, adding that, at times, he found the process of writing the book uncomfortable: “I admit that at one point it was so uncomfortable that I considered abandoning the project.” He decided to press on, however, noting that anything else would have been cowardice.

Collection of personal letters inspired closer examination

Guðmundur stated that he had discovered 15 letters authored by Friðrik in a collection belonging to banker and entrepreneur Eggert Claessen: “What caught my attention was that they all had the appearance of love letters.” This piqued his interest, given that homosexual love was generally not well documented in the late 19th century.

Deciding to delve deeper into the matter, he was allowed access to the archives of Reverend Friðrik, which was under the custody of the YMCA. “The nature of much of the material, his reminiscences, for example, was such that I was shocked. I was so surprised that they had not garnered greater attention – why none of them had become a public discussion; about how he, for instance, talks about his boys, and boys [in general].” Guðmundur noted that the society in which Friðrik lived and worked was unlikely to discuss matters such as these. “All such matters were just absolutely taboo,” Guðmundur added.

“Shocked” by the allegations

After the interview with Guðmundur was aired, YMCA/YWCA issued a press release, stating that the organisations’ leadership was “shocked by allegations of misconduct by their founder,” Reverend Friðrik, and that they were “committed to uncovering the truth.”

The organisations noted that they had placed special emphasis on the importance of child safety in their operations, requiring rigorous background checks and training for all staff. Lastly, they urged anyone who had experienced harassment or violence within their premises to report it, ensuring a conducive environment for addressing such serious concerns.

YMCA/YWCA Iceland is a non-profit and non-governmental (NGO) youth organisation based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. It operates five summer camps.

Stígamót spokesperson tells of other victims

Last night, Drífa Snædal, Spokesperson for Stígamót – a centre for survivors of sexual violence that provides free and confidential counselling – was interviewed on the news programme Kastljós. During the interview, Drífa revealed that others had confided in Stígamót’s counsellors because of reverend Friðrik.

“I can attest that more victims, or those related to them, have approached Stígamót,” Drífa observed, adding that she was unable to provide further details regarding the nature of the alleged offences or their timing. “It has kind of touched a nerve,” she remarked. “It’s referred to as ‘the worst kept secret in Icelandic history’ that [reverend Friðrik] abused or assaulted children.”

Drífa added that victims of abuse often seek help at Stígamót later in life. “Far too long, unfortunately, after the offences have occurred … being subjected to such offences as a child can affect the formation of relationships with one’s own children. The formation of normal, good relationships.”

She added that experiences like these can have various effects on others around the victims, for example, their descendants. “Therefore, it is important that people seek help to process difficult experiences as soon as possible.”

Statue on Lækjargata

There is a statue of Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson, flanked by a young boy, on the corner of Amtmannsstígur and Lækjargata in downtown Reykjavík. The statue was sculpted by Sigurjón Ólafsson, who was taught Christian studies as a boy by Friðrik.

As noted on the website of the Reykjavík Art Museum, Sigurjón and Friðrik found themselves stuck in Denmark, during the German occupation of the county in World War II, unable to return to Iceland. Sigurjón crafted a bust of Friðrik in 1943, “before it was too late,” as he said.

“The bust was displayed, along with other portraits by the sculptor, at the Listvinasalur gallery in 1952. Former pupils of the aged clergyman then proposed that an appropriate monument should be erected, for which Sigurjón was the obvious choice.”

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