Letter Suggests Socal Church Official Knew Priest Would Flee

By Noaki Schwartz
Fresno Bee
August 28, 2007

An internal letter made public Tuesday suggests that a high-ranking official in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles may have known that a priest accused of sexual abuse planned to flee to his native Mexico.

The letter, written by then-Rev. Msgr. Thomas J. Curry in 1988, was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court along with other papers as part of a civil lawsuit brought by one of Rev. Nicolas Aguilar Rivera's alleged victims.

In the Jan. 11, 1988 letter, Curry says that he met with Aguilar Rivera to discuss the sexual abuse allegations and the priest told him he "plans to stay with some family members here and then return to Mexico."

Aguilar Rivera fled to Mexico shortly after Curry wrote the letter and is currently a fugitive. Officials in Mexico's Puebla state have said they are trying to locate the priest, who is charged in California with 19 felony counts of committing lewd acts on a child.

At a news conference, Mary Grant, a spokeswoman for the group Survivor's Network of Those Abused by Priests, called on Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony to suspend Curry for "facilitating" the priest's escape. Curry is now an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles.

Tod Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese, said SNAP was taking the letter out of context and exaggerating its significance. He said the priest never indicated to church officials that he planned to flee.

"The conclusions they draw from the information they have is incorrect," Tamberg said. "It's clear what happened - that Aguilar Rivera fled without telling anybody."

The documents are part of a lawsuit filed by a Mexican altar boy who was allegedly abused by the priest in 1994, after he fled Los Angeles for Mexico.

The complaint alleges that Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City, who was then a bishop in Puebla state, transferred Aguilar Rivera to Los Angeles in 1988 for nine months despite knowing of allegations of abuse against the priest.

In a declaration filed in February, Rivera said he sent a letter to Mahony in 1987 warning him that Aguilar Rivera had "homosexual problems." Tamberg has said the U.S. cardinal never received the letter.

Mahony also was named in the suit, but settled privately with the accuser earlier this year.

A Los Angeles court gave Mexico extradition orders for Aguilar Rivera in 1988 and 1993, but he continued to work as a priest in Mexico. He disappeared after the lawsuit was filed last year.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.