LOS ANGELES – A Mexican citizen filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Tuesday accusing Roman Catholic cardinals in Mexico City and Los Angeles of conspiring to shelter a Mexican pedophile priest in both countries.
The lawsuit alleges then-Bishop Norberto Rivera, head of the Diocese of Tehuacan, and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony shuttled the Rev. Nicolas Aguilar Rivera between the U.S. and Mexico in the late 1980s to shield him from prosecution. Parishioners in both countries complained he had molested young boys.
The Mexican bishop has since been elevated to cardinal for the Archdiocese of Mexico City. He has no relation to the accused priest.
Aguilar Rivera was defrocked last summer and remains at large in Mexico, where he was believed to be living out of his car in Puebla, in central Mexico. He has been wanted by U.S. authorities on 19 felony counts of lewd conduct since he fled his temporary post in Los Angeles in 1988 and returned to Mexico.
Once back in Mexico, Aguilar Rivera continued to work as a priest for at least another decade and molested more young boys in Mexico City and in the Diocese of Tehuacan, in central Mexico, attorneys said. One of those boys is the current plaintiff.
“This priest was not only a rapist, but remained a priest and at large and was allowed to rape this child and many others,” attorney Jeff Anderson said at a bilingual news conference. “He was raped by this priest as a child in Mexico after both cardinals knew this priest posed a serious risk of harm.”
The Rev. Hugo Valdemar, Rivera’s spokesman, said the Mexican cardinal was not responsible for the priest’s wrongdoing and said suing the cardinal made no sense. Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for Mahony, said any allegations that Mahony helped cover up Aguilar Rivera’s crimes were “ludicrous.”
“We’re not losing sleep over this, we’re very calm,” Valdemar said.
Judges have thrown out two previous lawsuits filed against the Mexican cardinal in the U.S., saying a Mexican citizen cannot sue another Mexican citizen in U.S. court. Mahony settled his portion of an earlier lawsuit in 2007.
This time, attorneys have filed the lawsuit under the 221-year-old Alien Tort Claims Act, an 18th century law which allows non-U.S. citizens access to courts to challenge violations of international laws or treaties.
According to the lawsuit, in 1987 then-Bishop Rivera contacted Mahony and asked him to take Aguilar Rivera in as a visiting priest for one year due to “family and health reasons.”
The bishop later introduced the priest to Mahony with a letter that mentioned Aguilar Rivera had been brutally attacked in his Mexican parish, possibly because of “problems of homosexuality” that had not been proven.
Mahony has said he never received letters from the Mexican bishop explaining the priest’s history.
Plaintiff attorneys allege that “homosexual problems” was code among church officials for priests who were pedophiles.
Within a few months, Aguilar Rivera was accused of sexually molesting children at two different Los Angeles parishes.
He fled to Mexico in 1988 days before U.S. authorities filed molestation charges against him.
Aguilar Rivera continued to work as a priest in Mexico until at least 1997, when he is accused of molesting two boys, ages 12 and 13, at San Vicente de Ferrer Church in the Diocese of Tehuacan, plaintiff attorneys said.
Another boy alleged he was raped in 1994 at a parish in Mexico City.
One of those boys, the plaintiff, alleges Aguilar Rivera raped him for several months.
An employee who answered the phone at the attorney general’s office in Puebla, in central Mexico, said the office did not give out information over the phone. Previous calls to Mexican police about the case have not been returned.
The U.S. lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a jury trial in the United States.
AP Writer Ivan Moreno in Mexico City contributed to this report.
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