Man Alleging Priest Abuse Sues Cardinals

Linda Deutsch, AP Special Correspondent

LOS ANGELES – A 25-year-old Mexican man who says he was raped by a priest filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Roman Catholic church officials in Los Angeles and Mexico, claiming they conspired to hide evidence to protect the priest.

According to the lawsuit, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney and Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera placed the priest, Nicolas Aguilar, in posts where he molested as many as 60 boys in the two countries.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Joaquin Aguilar Mendez in Los Angeles Superior Court. Representatives of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests appeared with the accuser at a news conference but did not file the action.

A spokesman for the Mexican archdiocese called the allegations “fantasy” that “seems more fitting for a fiction novel.”

“In no way did they conspire or construct criminal links in order to protect child-molesting priests,” Hugo Valdemar told the government news agency Notimex. “This accusation is baseless.”

The lawsuit named Rivera, considered a candidate to replace Pope John Paul II following his death last year, and Mahoney, who heads the nation’s largest archdiocese.

“The charge of conspiracy is preposterous and without foundation,” said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Los Angeles archdiocese.

The lawsuit alleges Rivera, now Mexico’s top-ranking cardinal, helped cover up abuse involving 50 boys when Aguilar served as a parish priest in Mexico’s central Puebla state in 1987. Rivera was bishop of Tehuacan in Puebla state at the time.

Rivera, according to the suit, later helped in Aguilar’s transfer to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Aguilar has been charged in California with 19 felony counts of committing lewd acts on a child.

The suit said as many as 60 people from both Mexico and the U.S. have come forward with cases against Aguilar.

Joaquin Aguilar, who is not related to the priest, said at a news conference in Mexico in December that he was abused by Aguilar in 1994 when he was a teenager. He reported it to authorities, he said, but nothing was done.

Instead, he said, his family was ostracized by authorities and people in their parish.

The lawsuit gave an explicit account of the suspected rape in October 1994 in the priest’s room at the rectory when the boy was about 12 years old. It said the boy had gone there to use a restroom, was grabbed by the priest and sodomized. It further said the boy was told by the priest to keep quiet about what happened or his siblings would suffer the same abuse.

The lawsuit painted a picture of a priest who had sexual problems from the time he was a seminary student in the 1960s in Mexico. According to the suit, he attacked another student who, when he reported it, was thrown out of the seminary.

Aguilar, who was ordained a priest in 1970, was badly beaten at his parish residence in 1986 or 1987. According to the suit, police suspected one or more of many young male visitors to the rectory, but the priest declined to file charges. 

Rivera, then the bishop of Tehuacan, wrote to Mahoney, then archbishop of Los Angeles, in 1987, asking to transfer Aguilar there, according to the lawsuit. Rivera would later say he warned Mahoney in a letter that Aguilar had “homosexual problems,” but Mahoney would say he never received the warning.

In another letter, dated March 4, 1988, Mahoney was quoted as saying, “It is almost impossible to determine precisely the number of young altar boys he has sexually molested, but the number is large.”

By then, the suit said, the priest had fled to Mexico and Mahoney was seeking his return to face criminal charges in Los Angeles.


Associated Press writer Julie Watson in Mexico City contributed to this report.