Cardinal in Mexico Accused of Cover-up

(Houston Chronicle Foreign Service) MEXICO CITY – A Chicago-based victims’ rights group Tuesday accused Mexico’s most prominent Roman Catholic official of protecting a convicted child molester.

In a civil lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, charged that Cardinal Norberto Rivera covered up a long history of abuse by priest Nicolas Aguilar.

Rivera, who presides over the 2,000-priest archdiocese in Mexico City and had been considered a possible successor to Pope John Paul II, denies the accusations.

“The cardinal has always denied that there was complicity or a conspiracy,” said his spokesman, Hugo Valdemar.

Aguilar, 67, was accused of molesting more than 60 boys in Mexico from the 1970s through the 1990s, Mexican police say, and another 26 boys in Los Angeles during a nine-month stint in the city in 1988.

California authorities charged Aguilar with 19 felony counts of committing lewd acts on a child.

He is now believed to be in hiding in Mexico, where he has been convicted on one sexual abuse count.

SNAP charges that Rivera conspired to move Aguilar to Los Angeles to save him from facing trial in Mexico, and then allowed him to continue serving as a priest upon his return.

“He took an unsafe and unholy priest and sent him to the U.S., saying ‘this is a man you can trust who is safe and celibate,’ ” said Jeff Anderson, the lawyer in the case. “He didn’t warn the people in the U.S.”

The group brought the lawsuit on behalf of Joaquin Aguilar, 25, a Mexican man who claims he was sexually abused by the priest in 1994. He complained to Mexican authorities, according to the suit, but nothing was done. The priest and the alleged victim are not related.

SNAP also accuses Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles of taking part in the cover-up – charges he denies.

Mahoney, who claims he was never told about the accusations against Aguilar, later sent a letter rebuking Rivera for failing to warn him of the potential danger.

The case may be unprecedented in Mexico, where nearly 90 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and church officials wield enormous power, analysts say.

“Unfortunately in this country, the church hierarchy enjoy a kind of protection in which we’re all complicit,” said Bernardo Barranco, an expert on Mexico’s Catholic Church.

He argued that after the clergy sex abuse scandal broke in the United States in 2002, Mexican bishops opted to protect their own.

Marion Lloyd |