A Mexican man who claims he was abused at age 12 by a priest shuttled between Los Angeles and Mexico can sue the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles in U.S. court under a 222-year-old law addressing foreign complaints, a federal judge has ruled.
The case brought against church leaders in Los Angeles and Mexico alleges that Father Nicholas Aguilar Rivera was able to assault dozens of children in both countries because church officials conspired to conceal his history of pedophilia. The church has denied that allegation.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Josephine S. Tucker, announced Monday, was the first clergy abuse case to be brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789, which allows foreigners access to U.S. courts when remedies are lacking in their home countries, attorneys said.
In the complaint filed in April, Aguilar is accused of sexually abusing as many as 60 children, including 26 in Los Angeles in the late 1980s.
Tucker said the crimes alleged by the plaintiff, now 26, constitute “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” She has yet to rule on whether the case is strong enough to proceed to trial.
Attorneys for the man hailed the ruling as “groundbreaking.”
“The judge has stated that the abuse, the conduct we alleged, falls within the meaning of the Alien Tort Statute as interpreted by the Supreme Court,” said attorney Anthony DeMarco.
A lawyer for the Los Angeles archdiocese, Michael Hennigan, said the church was interpreting the judge’s ruling to be an “invitation” to seek disposal of the case through a different legal tack.