Attorneys: Mahony Ignored Warnings from Mexican Bishop

The Associated Press, carried in Herald Tribune [Los Angeles CA]
Downloaded April 30, 2004


A 1987 letter from a Mexican bishop telling Cardinal Roger Mahony about a visiting priest's "homosexual problems" went unheeded, allowing the priest to allegedly molest 26 boys in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, according to attorneys.

The attorneys, who represent alleged victims of sexual abuse, charge that Mahony assigned Father Nicolas Aguilar Rivera to work in Los Angeles parishes in 1987 despite at least one warning from Bishop Norberto Rivera of Tecuacan, Mexico.

A letter from the bishop to Mahony written a year later - and obtained by plaintiffs' attorney Raymond Boucher - mentions the contents of the 1987 letter. The Mexican bishop sent Mahony the letter two months after Rivera fled to Mexico to avoid arrest on charges of child molestation.

"In the letter of presentation, January 27, 1987, I included a photograph of identification, and in the confidential letter of March 23 of the same year, I completed a brief report on the homosexual problems of the priest," the bishop wrote Mahony on March 17, 1988.

Boucher, who obtained the 1988 letter from the district attorney's office through a Freedom of Information Act request, has not been able to locate the two older letters it mentions.

"There's absolutely no question that the letter from the bishop in Mexico was a clear warning that this priest is a danger to children," said Boucher. "It completely undermines Mahony's claim that, when he became bishop, he ... tried to ensure that there was a safe environment for children to be at the church."

Tod Tamberg, an archdiocese spokesman, said Mahony was never warned of Rivera's sexual problems and denied the cardinal ever received the March 23 letter.

"The archdiocese has no record of this letter, and when Cardinal Mahony asked the bishop in Mexico for a copy, he did not get a response," Tamberg said in a statement.

A 1988 police report indicates Rivera abused 26 grade-school children between March 1987 and January 1988 in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Rose Hills and St. Agatha's in Los Angeles. In both parishes, he recruited and trained young boys to be alter servers, according to the police report.

A parent of an abused child reported the abuse to a pastor on Jan. 8, 1988. Rivera was relieved of "all priestly duties" the next day, according to the report.

Rivera was charged with 19 felony counts of committing lewd acts on a child, but he fled to Mexico and was never arrested. The case is still open.

Showing Mahony knowingly kept abusive priests working in the archdiocese could affect hundreds of civil lawsuits. The new evidence could form the basis of obstruction-of-justice or other criminal charges, the lawyers contend.

Four hundred suits against the Los Angeles Archdiocese alleging child molestation have been in closed-door mediation for 18 months.


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