A 25-year-old Mexican man filed suit Tuesday alleging that Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and a Mexican cardinal conspired to hide a priest’s 20-plus years of child sexual abuse, exposing dozens more young victims to rape by a known pedophile.
The complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles relies on a U.S. law, more than 200 years old, that allows foreign victims of human rights abuses to bring their perpetrators to justice in U.S. courts. The civil suit is the first known to use the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789 to demand a jury trial and compensation for sexual offenses committed abroad by clergy, attorneys said.
The suit accuses Mahony and Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City of negligence and conspiracy in covering up allegations against Father Nicolas Aguilar Rivera in Los Angeles and at Mexican parishes. The plaintiff, whose name was not disclosed in the suit, alleges that he was abused by the priest in 1997, when he was a 12-year-old altar boy.
The Mexican-born Aguilar first came to the attention of police in late 1986, after he was beaten by several attackers. Authorities speculated that the attack was in retaliation for his alleged abuse of young boys during overnight stays at the rectory in the Diocese of Tehuacan, Mexico. A month later, then-Bishop Rivera wrote to Mahony to offer Aguilar for placement in a Los Angeles ministry, with a coded reference to the priest being problematic, the lawsuit alleges.
Mahony appointed Aguilar associate pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Los Angeles in March 1987, and two months later, transferred him to St. Agatha Catholic Church, according to the suit. Within nine months of Aguilar’s arrival, Los Angeles police had amassed 26 reports of sexual abuse of minors by the priest, who fled to Mexico the night Mahony was informed of the abuse allegations, according to the suit filed by attorney Jeffery R. Anderson.
The suit alleges that a top church official in Los Angeles knew that Aguilar planned to flee the country and did not notify police “in direct violation of California law.”
Archdiocese spokesman Tod M. Tamberg called the lawyer’s claims “preposterous and without foundation.”
“None of the documents concerning Nicolas Aguilar Rivera are new. The media have reported on them extensively in the past decade. They show that Cardinal Mahony urged Aguilar Rivera’s return to the U.S. to face justice,” Tamberg said in a statement. He said that was all the church planned to say on the subject.
In the complaint, Anderson contends that Aguilar raped his client repeatedly in 1997, after both cardinals had learned of other sexual assault complaints.
Aguilar was defrocked in July, more than 20 years after the first credible complaints of sexual abuse were brought by authorities in Mexico and Los Angeles, Anderson said. He said Aguilar is suspected of abusing as many as 60 boys in Mexico as well as the 26 reported in Los Angeles.
“For 21 years, from 1988 until Nicolas Aguilar Rivera was defrocked, he was allowed to utilize the authority of the church in Mexico to brutalize children,” said Los Angeles attorney Anthony M. De Marco, who represents others who allege that they were abused by Aguilar.
The priest’s whereabouts are unknown, De Marco said, but he suspects that Aguilar continues to find shelter in church facilities in Mexico.
A 1988 arrest warrant remains in force, and his extradition has been sought by U.S. authorities. If apprehended, Aguilar faces criminal charges in his homeland and in the United States.