Runaway Priests [See a list of articles in the series.]
Hiding in Plain Sight
The Human Toll

By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
June 22, 2004

It was Christmas Day 1987, and Father Nicolás Aguilar was far from home.

While visiting a family of parishioners he had befriended in Los Angeles, the priest began drinking tequila and lapsed into self-pity. He started talking for the first time about why he'd left a parish in his native Mexico several months earlier.

The scar on his forehead was part of the story. "He said he was helping kids," the mother of the family remembers, "and their fathers came with sticks."

Then he opened his shirt to reveal a healed bullet wound in the upper chest: "One of their relatives came with a shotgun."

The woman tearfully remembers reacting with a stunned sympathy. Father Aguilar was the Spanish-speaking priest she had dreamed of having. He was the role model in a rough neighborhood who always wanted to spend time with her boys.

The priest, after drinking too much, spent the night, she says. In the family's cramped quarters, that meant sharing a bedroom with two of her young sons.

Early the next morning, the younger boy scurried into his parents' bedroom and crawled under the covers. Father Aguilar hurried off without eating breakfast. Soon the boys were explaining: The priest had been molesting them for months and had done so again the previous evening.

"You always go to church with him, and you want to be with him all the time," the mother remembers hearing from a third son, her eldest. "And look at what he is."

He was, she concluded, a man who "said he loved the Lord but wanted to destroy my family."

Father Aguilar says he has never abused children.

A few years later, the eldest boy said Father Aguilar had abused him, too. Otherwise the family – feeling abandoned by the church and not knowing what became of the priest – has spent most of the last 16 years not talking about any of this.

In her mind, the mother replayed all the warning signs she had missed. The boys, now young adults, buried their anger and shame.

"I learned to hate," the eldest says, "more than I learned to love."


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