MEXICO CITY (AP) – Police in the Mexican state of Puebla began searching Tuesday for a Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting children in Los Angeles, officials said.
Rev. Nicolas Aguilar, charged in California with 19 felony counts of committing lewd acts on a child, was reportedly was in a small village in Puebla earlier this month.
Puebla Interior Secretary Javier Lopez said detectives and local police were working with church officials to find Aguilar.
“We have sent our agents and the local police to help us find him because we cannot just fold our arms,” Lopez told reporters.
The case gained widespread attention last week when U.S. lawyers filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City conspired with Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony to protect Aguilar.
Both cardinals denied the charges, and Rivera urged Aguilar to turn himself in.
The charges against Aguilar were filed in Los Angeles in 1988 after he worked as a priest there for nine months. Aguilar then fled to Mexico, working as a priest in various parishes.
Jeff Anderson, an attorney working on the lawsuit, said that a Los Angeles court gave Mexico extradition orders for Aguilar in 1988 and 1993, which were not fulfilled. The 1993 order is still valid and a Mexican court could use it to issue an arrest warrant, Anderson said.
The lawsuit alleges Rivera helped cover up the abuse of 50 boys when Aguilar was parish priest in Puebla, before being transferred to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Rivera was bishop of Tehuacan in Puebla at the time.
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.
Rivera has said the lawsuit is an attempt to extort the church. Similar suits have cost U.S. Catholic dioceses an estimated $1.5 billion, alarming church leaders worldwide.
Rivera was considered a candidate to replace Pope John Paul II after his death last year and Mahony heads the United States’ largest archdiocese.
Ioan Grillo, Associated Press