3 Tied to Abuse Case Detained in Mexico

By Lisa J. Adams
The Associated Press, carried in Charlotte Observer
September 20, 2006

[For diocesan and legal documents on Aguilar and links to articles, see our webpage on The Aguilar Case.]

Mexico City - Immigration authorities on Wednesday briefly detained representatives of a man who says he was sexually abused by a Mexican Roman Catholic priest. The three men were detained shortly after they alleged that the fugitive cleric was still celebrating Mass in Mexico.

The alleged victim, 25-year-old Joaquin Aguilar Mendez, also told a news conference he has feared for his life and that of his family since he first went public with his claims late last year.

Aguilar Mendez, along with several U.S. lawyers and members of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called the news conference to reveal details of a civil lawsuit he filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, alleging that Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony conspired to protect Catholic Priest Nicolas Aguilar.

Shortly after the news conference, immigration officials detained and questioned for an hour two of Aguilar Mendez's U.S. lawyers - Jeff Anderson and Michael Finnegan - as well as Survivors Network national director David Clohessy, the group said.

"It felt somewhat like harassment, but if that's the case nothing will stop us," Clohessy said. "Our efforts are to protect kids."

A person who answered the telephone at Mexican immigration offices said no one was immediately available to comment.

Anderson said Nicolas Aguilar - who has been formally charged in California with 19 felony counts of committing lewd acts on a child - celebrated Mass last Sunday in Mexico's central state of Puebla.

"He has been serving Mass in three parishes in that area," he said. "He's going to say Mass this (coming) Sunday."

Rivera spokesman Carlos Villa Roiz told The Associated Press that he did not know if Aguilar was in Puebla, and nobody answered the telephone Wednesday at the Puebla archdiocese.

"The Church condemns this type of actions (sexual abuse)," Villa Roiz said. "I don't think any bishop would permit him" to celebrate Mass.

Rivera's office issued a statement on Tuesday and Wednesday denying the lawsuit's allegations. The cardinal "at no time covered up" the priest, "nor has he participated in any conspiracy to give asylum in Mexico to priests accused of sexual abuses," it said.

Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Los Angeles archdiocese, said the conspiracy charge "is preposterous and without foundation."

Rivera's office also characterized the lawsuit as "a publicity stunt with questionable aims rather than a search for true justice for the victims."

Vance Owen, a Texas attorney representing Aguilar Mendez, said the lawsuit was seeking economic compensation because the victim "has suffered a great deal." He said no specific amount had been requested.

The lawsuit accuses both cardinals of negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy and sexual battery, and it charges the Rev. Aguilar with sexual battery, Owen said.

Documents filed with the court gave an explicit account of the alleged rape of Joaquin Aguilar in October 1994. They said the 12-year-old had gone to the priest's room at the rectory too use a restroom, was grabbed by the priest and sodomized. It said the priest told the boy to keep quiet or his siblings would suffer the same abuse.

The lawsuit alleges Rivera, Mexico's most prominent cardinal, helped cover up abuse involving 50 boys when Aguilar served as a parish priest in Mexico's central Puebla state in 1987. Rivera was bishop of Tehuacan in Puebla state at the time.

Rivera, according to the suit, later helped in Aguilar's transfer to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The suit said as many as 60 alleged victims from both Mexico and the U.S. have come forward with allegations against Aguilar.

Rivera heads the Mexico City archdiocese and was considered a candidate to replace Pope John Paul II when the pope died last year. Mahony heads the United States' largest archdiocese.


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