4 Cases Provide a Glimpse of How Archdiocese
[See also the main article in this feature, the profiles of 33 accused priests with photos, and essays on three other priests: Revs. Michael S. Baker, Theodore Llanos, and Carl Sutphin. See also the Aguilar documents.]
A mother contacted the Los Angeles Archdiocese on Jan. 6, 1988, to report that a priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, a predominantly Latino parish in the foothills of El Sereno, had molested her two young sons, according to police records. Two days later, another parent alerted the principal at the Catholic grade school that the same priest had abused a boy.
The calls prompted then-Monsignor Thomas J. Curry, a top aide to Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, to visit Father Nicolas Aguilar Rivera on Jan. 9, a Saturday. Curry informed Aguilar that he could no longer serve in the archdiocese, pending an investigation, and offered to find him temporary living quarters.
Aguilar, a visiting priest who had spent the previous nine months at the Los Angeles Archdiocese, told Curry that he would return to his native Mexico in the next few days.
Curry reported back to Mahony, according to church sources, but did not notify police of Aguilar's intentions. On Jan. 11, a Monday, the school principal contacted the Los Angeles Police Department. That same morning, detectives took statements from seven young students who said they had been molested. But police could not locate Aguilar, who had left for Mexico within hours of his meeting with Curry.
The investigators then sought to interview additional possible victims at schools near the two parishes where Aguilar had worked. When the archdiocese refused to provide a roster of altar boys, detectives began pulling students, one by one, out of classrooms. In all, they talked to 63 students and found 26 boys who said Aguilar had molested them, according to police reports.
The list of altar boys was withheld by Sister Judith Ann Murphy, an archdiocese attorney, at the recommendation of Curry and with Mahony's approval, church officials said. Curry and the cardinal were concerned about fueling fears of a police crackdown on illegal immigrants at the two predominantly Latino parishes, they said.
On April 15, 1988, the district attorney's office filed a 19-count felony complaint charging Aguilar with sexually abusing 10 minors. Charges were filed in Mexico in 1988, but Aguilar could not be found. In 1995, a Mexican judge dismissed the charges because the statute of limitations had expired.
Aguilar is still being sought by prosecutors in Los Angeles. "There is a lot of frustration, definitely," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Janice Maurizi. "We don't know for sure that Father Rivera is still in Mexico. For that matter, we don't know he is still alive."
Authorities accuse the archdiocese of impeding their inquiry. Their concerns led to a March 9, 1988, meeting with Mahony to discuss the issue of cooperation. "I just felt they would have more concern for the victims in this case," said Gary Lyon, a retired LAPD sex crimes detective who attended the meeting. "It seemed to me they were more concerned about protecting the image of the church and the priesthood than they were the children involved."
Mahony said he had little knowledge of the Aguilar case. Curry declined to comment, although, in a letter to a parishioner, he denied any attempt to hinder the investigation.
Mahony acknowledged that the response to the Aguilar case "wasn't sufficient." He said the archdiocese has changed its polices in responding to allegations of sexual abuse. "Right now, when we get an allegation of abuse of a minor, we're right on the phone to the police department ... not to the priest," he said. "Part of the pain of this whole thing is, I wish we had known then what we know now."
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