Catholic Church Scandal Unpriestly Acts Prompt More Calls for Action

Documents released by the Los Angeles archdiocese this week shine more light on cover-ups by high-ranking church officials to protect priests accused of sexual abuse from prosecution. The documents pertain to former Los Angeles priest Nicholas Aguilar Rivera, a Mexican national who in 1987 was accused of molesting 26 boys in Los Angeles, narrowly escaped prosecution by fleeing the country.

Mary Grant, spokesperson for the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a national support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse, demanded that Cardinal Roger Mahoney suspend Bishop Thomas Curry because he facilitated Aguilar’s escape and let him avoid prosecution in the United States.

“At least twice, Bishop Curry has helped pedophile priests evade justice,” said Grant, who alleges that Curry took active steps to hide Aguilar from police.

Accompanied by the sounds of ringing church bells and mid-day traffic, SNAP presented the documents at a press conference Tuesday in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Highlighted, was a letter dated Jan 11, 1988, written by Curry, which shows how he was aware of at least two molestation accusations made against Aguilar but waited two days to contact police investigators.

Curry’s letter was addressed to the Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who then was Bishop of Tehuacan, the area were Aguilar had requested a transfer to. Bishop Curry acknowledges that he knew Aguilar was accused of “very inappropriate behavior to children” and also the suspected pedophile’s intentions to flee the country.

Two days before the police were notified and an investigation launched, Curry confronted Aguilar about the charges and suspended him from the Archdiocese. According to a February 20, 1987, Los Angeles Times report, church officials also stalled the police investigation by refusing to provide a list of altar boys at Our Lady of Guadalupe, the East Los Angeles parish where Aguilar worked two months, before transferring to St: Agatha in South Central Los Angeles.

While working in the East Los Angeles and South Central parishes during 1987, Aguilar, 62, molested at least 26 altar boys, according to criminal charges filed by police. Aguilar managed to escape those charges but was charged again in 1994 by the mother of then 12-year-old Joaquin Aguilar Mendez, who accused the priest of raping him.

In January, Aguilar was still listed as a priest in the Diocese of Tehuacan. Today, he faces a pending civil lawsuit filed last September in Los Angeles Superior Court by Mendez. Church officials are fighting the current lawsuit, arguing that U.S court should have no jurisdiction over Mexican church officials.

“(The church) is doing little if anything to help Aguilar’s victims and to protect vulnerable families, except fighting in court to say ‘we shouldn’t be held accountable,'” said David Clohessy, National director of SNAP.

Since Aguilar fled the country before being prosecuted, the usual three year period for filing sexual abuse cases can be extended should the court decide so. But new prosecution remains an uncertain outcome. Said Clohessy, “We believe that the main obstacle to prosecution is not any lack of victims, witnesses or evidence. The main obstacle is a lack of courage on the part of government officials.”

Daniel Harju- LA City Beat