(The Associated Press) MEXICO CITY The Mexican Bishops’ Conference on Friday criticized a Los Angeles-based lawsuit accusing Mexico’s most prominent cardinal of covering up for a fugitive priest, saying it has generated an “unjust media scandal.”
The conference said it supported Cardinal Norberto Rivera, the archbishop of Mexico City, who denies the charges and urged a fugitive priest wanted in the U.S. to come forward.
“In name of all the bishops of the country, we express our solidarity and fraternal support before this unjust media scandal that you have been the object of in recent days,” it said in a letter to Rivera signed by Bishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, the conference’s secretary-general.
A lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles Superior Court alleges Rivera conspired with Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony to protect the Rev. Nicolas Aguilar, who has been formally charged in California with 19 felony counts of committing lewd acts on a child. Mahony also denies the charges.
In Friday’s letter, the Mexican bishops also said the lawsuit was self-serving and that, “We recognize (Rivera’s) bravery in confronting these illegal and amoral actions.”
Similar suits have cost U.S. Catholic dioceses an estimated US$1.5 billion (?1.2 billion), alarming church leaders worldwide.
The lawsuit alleges Rivera helped cover up the abuse of 50 boys when Aguilar was parish priest in the Mexican state of Puebla, before being transferred to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Rivera was bishop of Tehuacan in Puebla at the time.
Aguilar was charged with molesting children in Los Angeles in 1988 after he had worked there for nine months.
He fled to Mexico and worked in various parishes, despite having a U.S. extradition order for him, according to Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minnesota, attorney working on the lawsuit.
In the suit, 25-year-old Joaquin Aguilar Mendez alleges he was raped by Aguilar in Mexico City in 1994. Documents filed with the court say Aguilar Mendez, then 12, had gone to the priest’s room at the rectory to use a restroom, when he was grabbed by the priest and sodomized. It said the priest told the boy to keep quiet or his siblings would suffer the same abuse.
Police in Puebla began searching for Aguilar this week after reports that he had conducted Mass in a parish there earlier this month.
Rivera has called on Aguilar to turn himself in.
“I ask that Father Nicolas Aguilar, wherever he may be, respond to the corresponding authorities for the terrible crimes he is accused of, for the good of his conscience and to avoid further damage to the church,” Rivera said. “If anyone has been a victim of this priest, they should denounce it.”