LOS ANGELES – A judge refused Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that a fugitive Mexican priest molested a boy 25 years ago in Los Angeles and instead combined claims by 11 alleged victims into one trial.
Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias postponed trial in the lawsuit involving the Rev. Nicolas Aguilar Rivera and, for now, denied a request by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles for a change of venue.
The lawsuit claims Aguilar Rivera molested the plaintiff in 1987 while in Los Angeles, where he was working for one year after being severely beaten in his home parish in the Diocese of Tehuacan, in Mexico’s Puebla State.
The priest fled back to Mexico in January 1988 after parents complained about abuse and an archdiocese official told Aguilar Rivera the church would have to notify Los Angeles police.
When detectives arrived, the priest was already gone but an investigation revealed he had molested as many as 26 children, many of them altar boys, during the nine months he spent in California.
An arrest warrant on 19 felony counts remains in effect if he ever returns to the U.S., said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman. His whereabouts are unknown.
Eleven of the priest’s alleged victims, all now grown men, have filed claims.
Plaintiff attorneys plan to call as a witness the recently retired Cardinal Roger Mahony, who was at the helm of the nation’s largest archdiocese when the alleged abuse occurred.
Aguilar Rivera’s bishop, Norberto Rivera, wrote a letter to Mahony to tell him there had been “several accusations of homosexuality against the priest” that had not been proven, but were believed to be the cause of the attack.
Anthony De Marco, the plaintiff’s attorney, argued in court that homosexuality was used among church leaders as a code word for pedophilia.
He also said the church should have known Aguilar Rivera was molesting children because a parish secretary and another priest became aware he was abusing children after he arrived in Los Angeles.
The judge rejected the notion that the Mexican bishop’s letter was a warning about pedophilia but said when combined with other evidence there was still enough to meet the threshold for a jury trial.
Elias set a May 28 hearing to set a trial date for all 11 cases, likely sometime in January 2014.