LOS ANGELES (AP) – A judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday against Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who had been accused of conspiring with Roman Catholic officials in the U.S. to transfer a priest accused of sexual abuse.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle found Rivera could not be held accountable in a U.S. court because the plaintiff didn’t have enough evidence against him, said Mike Finnegan, the plaintiff’s attorney.
“It was a legal technicality,” he said. “It didn’t reach any of the merits of the case, and it didn’t get to the key issues in the case, which is Cardinal Rivera’s complicity in sending (the priest) to the United States as a child molester.”
The judge’s ruling also dismissed claims against the Mexican Diocese of Tehuacan, where the cardinal was bishop at the time he transferred the priest.
Steve Selsberg, an attorney representing the Mexican cardinal in Los Angeles, said the judge found no evidence of conspiracy after reviewing a year’s worth of evidence collected by attorneys from both sides.
Plaintiff Joaquin Aguilar Mendez, 26, filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that Rivera, who was then a bishop in Puebla state, knew that the priest had molested children when he sent him to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The priest, Nicolas Aguilar Rivera, is no relation to the cardinal or the plaintiff.
The cardinal’s spokesman, Hugo Valdemar, told The Associated Press in Mexico City that the cardinal was pleased with the judge’s decision.
“We are happy and satisfied that the judge confirmed what we have always said: This isn’t a case to be judged in the United States,” Valdemar said, noting the plaintiff had every right to present a complaint in Mexico.
Mendez said Tuesday that he planned to have his U.S. attorneys appeal. He said a lawsuit he filed against the priest in Mexico City in 1994 has gone nowhere and police have not apprehended the priest despite a warrant for his arrest in Puebla state.
“I feel very embarrassed that my own government decides to do nothing about my case,” he said, through a Spanish translator. “This has damaged and ruined my personal life, it has damaged me financially and of course socially. In Mexico, in these type of cases, the victim becomes revictimized by society.”
In a declaration filed in February, the cardinal said he sent a letter to Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony in 1987 warning him that the priest had “homosexual problems.” A spokesman for the Los Angeles archdiocese has said the U.S. cardinal never received it.
The priest fled to Mexico after he was accused of sexual abuse in Los Angeles and before police could begin an investigation. He has since been charged in California with 19 felony counts of committing lewd acts on a child.
The priest lied to the Archdiocese of Mexico City and was able to get temporary permission to serve as priest there, Selsberg said. He fled Mexico City in 1995 when Norberto Rivera was promoted to cardinal and has been a fugitive since, Selsberg said.
The priest’s whereabouts are currently unknown, Finnegan said.
Mendez, now 26, filed a lawsuit about a year ago alleging that the priest raped him in his room at the rectory when he was about 12 years old. The boy was told by the priest to keep quiet about what happened or his siblings would suffer the same abuse, according to the lawsuit.
While it is The Associated Press’ policy not to identify people who allege sexual abuse, Mendez chose to come forward with his story.
Mahony, the Los Angeles cardinal, settled his portion of the lawsuit in July when the archdiocese agreed to pay more than 500 alleged victims of sex abuse $660 million, archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg said.
Any allegations of conspiracy against Mahony are outrageous, he added.
“We maintain that it was a ridiculous charge of conspiracy. The decision doesn’t change our opinion that this was an absolutely spurious lawsuit,” Tamberg said.
BY GILLIAN FLACCUS