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October 28th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

Predators in plain sight: Priests accused of child abuse appear beyond the reach of law

Editor’s note: Gary Tuchman reports on allegedly abusive Catholic priests who are living, unsuspected, in communities across the country on CNN Presents, Saturday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET on CNN.

By Gary Tuchman and Jessi Joseph, CNN

Los Angeles (CNN) - Former LAPD Detective Federico Sicard still remembers the Monday he arrived at a school to interview children who said a priest had molested them, even though the visit took place 23 years ago.

Sicard found four children at the school, Our Lady of Guadalupe in East L.A., who said they’d been abused by Nicolas Aguilar Rivera, a priest who’d recently arrived from Mexico.

But police never had a chance to interview Aguilar.

“We went to interview the priest and they told us he’s no longer here,” Sicard, who spent more than 20 years on the case, said in a recent interview. “He’s gone. He was taken to Mexico.”

Church officials said they found out about the alleged abuse on a Friday in early 1988 and met with Aguilar the next day to remove him from ministry.

According to a police report, Aguilar told church officials at that meeting that he planned to return to his native Mexico at the beginning of the following week.

The police were notified on Monday morning, but it was too late. Aguilar had already fled the United States for Mexico.

“We made a call to child protective services. Nobody was answering the phone. It was 5 o’clock on a Friday,” said Tod Tamberg, the spokesman for the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

“Monday morning the call was made – a notification was made – and Aguilar Rivera, during the weekend, fled without telling anybody, to Mexico,” Tamberg said.

Sicard said if the police had been notified earlier, Aguilar would have been detained.

After Aguilar fled, more reports of his alleged abuse surfaced. The Los Angeles District Attorney later filed a warrant for his arrest, charging Aguilar with molesting 10 children.

Aguilar is still wanted in Los Angeles for 19 felony counts of lewd acts against a child.

He had been in the U.S. for only nine months.

“We’d love to know where he is, we really would,” Tamberg said. “I mean, the letters demanding his return don’t expire. We’d like him to come back and face justice.”

Aguilar is one of hundreds of former Catholic priests who have faced sex abuse allegations and who now live unmonitored in unsuspecting communities.

For decades, accused priests who were kicked out of the church for allegations of abuse blended back into society. No one keeps track of where they live.

“Unfortunately, they’ve never been convicted,” said Tamberg. “They’re private citizens and so they’re free to move about and live where they want to.”

Nearly 6,000 priests have been accused of molesting children in the United States since the 1950s, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Very few of the accused ever make it to a criminal trial, often because by the time the victims come forward the statute of limitations for the crime has passed. At that point, even if a priest admits to the abuse, he cannot go to jail.

CNN has learned that Aguilar allegedly continued his abuse of children after fleeing to Mexico.

In 1992, four years after leaving the U.S., Aguilar surfaced in Mexico City. Still a priest, he was assigned to the church, Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro, where he met Joaquin Mendez.

“I met him being an altar boy,” said Mendez, 30, who remembered him vividly. He said Aguilar became a close friend of his family.

“Honestly, his presence made me feel uncomfortable. His breath smelled really bad. It was a disgusting smell. Even now I feel the scars of those memories,” said Mendez.

Mendez was 13 years old when, he said, Aguilar called him into his bedroom at the church.

“He said, ‘Come on in. Let me show you some music tapes I made.’ So I go in and then he forced me to pull down my pants. He raped me,” Mendez said.

“I got away from him however I could,” Mendez continued. “He threatened me not to say anything to my family because if I did he was going to do the same thing to my brother.”

But Mendez found the courage to come forward. He said he told his parents and they went to the police.

Aguilar left Mexico City in 1995. Over the next 10 years he continued working as a priest in small towns in the Mexican state of Puebla.

Five formal complaints have been filed against Aguilar in Mexico since his return from Los Angeles. Aguilar is still wanted in Puebla for statutory rape, but authorities there say they’ve lost his trail.

CNN recently received a tip that Aguilar had been seen in Jonacatapec, a small farming town in the Mexican state of Morelos, about two hours south of Mexico City.

Emiliano, a Jonacatapec farmer, told CNN he had seen Aguilar twice. He said he recognized Aguilar from the news. Emiliano took CNN journalists to a bus stop outside of town, the last place he had seen Aguilar.

At the bus stop, a woman told CNN she rides the bus with Aguilar. “I saw him on the bus and he said I should take care of my baby,” she said. “That was all.” She had no idea about his past but agreed to show us where she believed Aguilar lived.

Once in the neighborhood, CNN was unable to find anyone else who knew Aguilar.

Sanjuana Martinez is a Mexican journalist who has written a book about Aguilar. She has also interviewed the priest himself.

“I said I can’t believe it that he’s talking with me,” Martinez said.

In a phone interview with Martinez, Aguilar repeatedly denied the allegations, including the charges made by Mendez.

“All of this has been a series of defamation, slanders,” Aguilar told her. “That is what all of this has been.”

Martinez said she believes it is unlikely Aguilar will ever be arrested in Mexico.

The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, Hugo Valdemar, said the church has no further responsibility for Aguilar.

He said the church disputes the claim of rape by Mendez but acknowledged that Aguilar may be guilty of other abuse.

“I’m not saying he may not have done things, because we have the impression that he did,” Valdemar said. “The church has done what needed to be done. It suspended Nicolas Aguilar. He is no longer a priest.”

But church officials in Mexico did not defrock Aguilar until 2009, years after they knew about the alleged abuse. Valdemar said that it’s not the church’s job to hunt down suspects: ”This is a job for the police.”

Tony De Marco is a Los Angeles attorney that represents Joaquin Mendez and others who say they were abused by Aguilar. “There is no desire on the part of the church here to see that he be prosecuted and put in jail,” De Marco said.

De Marco said he would like to see the same policy changes in Mexico regarding victims of clergy sexual abuse that have been made in the U.S.

“You’ve seen things like zero-tolerance policies, you’ve seen compensation to victims, you’ve seen prosecutions of priests and most recently - finally - prosecution of those who facilitated and helped these men ... continue to molest kids,” said De Marco. “Change can happen. That’s my client’s belief and that’s my belief.”

But for now, Aguilar, and hundreds of other accused priests throughout the U.S. appear to remain beyond the reach of the law.

– CNN’s Luisa Calad, Valeria Longhi and special contributor Jesus Soria contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Mexico • Sex abuse

soundoff (545 Responses)
  1. Rod C. Venger

    Aquilar can outrun the law, he can outlast the statute of limitations...but he can't dodge a bullet.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • JohnK

      And who is going to give it to him? The drug lords?

      October 30, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  2. Al

    This is not a Catholic priest problem. The issue of pedophile priests is larger than the Catholic Church, much larger and implicates Western culture in general. Most of the allegations date 30-50 years ago, and now barred by the statute of limitations. It was, and remains, as big a problem in Protestant churches, particularly with youth pastors, public school teachers, scouting leaders, etc. Doesn't everyone remember the "funny" physical education teacher in junior high school who stared seventh graders up and down before handing out towels to shower, or the scouting leader who remained active in scouting even though he was single and had no children? I am in my 50's and remember the time when all of the kids knew someone wasn't quite right, and had a weird feeling about these adults who sought jobs that placed them in contact with young boys. It was a more innocent time, and no one spoke openly. Even the parents sensed the strange vibe but dismissed it, because such things were unpublicized and never discussed. The difference, I think, is that the Catholic Church has had to implement strict screening practices in hiring, and has made major changes in how they review, not just priests, but also lay volunteers. Other organizations have not. The media focuses on the Catholic Church, and is almost complicit in the ongoing scandal within the public school system, which has still not had to address this problem.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  3. RayJacksonMS

    Is there a list of these people some where? If not, why not? There is a creepy little HR Manager where I used to work that used to be a priest and I have no doubt he is a pedophile. I want to see if he's on the list.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • kryg

      A former priest is not necessarily a pedophile. CNN and other media have done a great job stereotyping priests as pedophiles even though its a small percentage of them are and that percentage is actually small compared to other sectors of society.

      October 30, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • D Thomas

      Ray you can go to BishopAccountability.org and see if he ever had allegations against him. If you would like to you may contact me at odclar@comcast.net and leave your phone number so that I may contact you – ok? We will find out if this person has any dark past. Thank you for coming forward to help others.

      D Thomas
      Chicago

      October 31, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • D Thomas

      I'm sorry – my email is odclark@comast.net

      I left the "k" off of clark

      October 31, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  4. daehttub

    Priests are immediately turned over to the police if they steal money from the Church while child rapists are protected. This should clue people into the real values of the Catholic Church leadership. It's time for a second Reformation to save the Church from its corrupt leadership.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • dg

      well said! It is revolting to think that an organization that is supposedly founded on "love" would ever tolerate this behavior. It is not just the Catholic church either it is pretty much all organized religion – disgusting!

      October 30, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  5. Atheist

    This is a good example of why religion should be restricted to legal adults. If you're over 18 and want to govern your life with magical thinking and empty threats issued from Bronze Age scrolls, that's one thing. But if you expose minors to a life devoid of reason and logic, all sorts of abuses are possible.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Tyler Durden

      Where do you draw the line exposing people under 18 to ideas? Should they not be allowed to study chemistry. archeology, barrel making and archery because those things might lead to abuse? All of those things, by the way, pre-date the bronze age. What you're suggesting isn't atheism, it's called nihilism.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  6. Tyler Durden

    Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
    Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
    Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
    Listen to the words long written down
    When the Man comes around

    October 30, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  7. JiminTX

    Of course the abuser seeks refuge among a debased culture.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  8. justice

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eqKb5ViN_Q

    October 30, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • justice

      The Age of Consent in Vatican City is 12. The lowest in the world. It is a haven for Child predators, the Catholic Church is a haven and protector of Pedophiles, The Current Pope has stated Child R@pe is "Normal"

      This cult needs to be brought to justice. If the Government will not do it, perhaps people need to seek justice themselves.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • JohnK

      Actually, "Justice," even a quick wikipedia seach shows that the age of consent in the Vatican is dictated because they automatically adopt the laws of the Italian state. The age of consent in Italy is 14. You are a moron.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  9. Samhain

    The Catholic Church is absolutely repulsive. The Vatican should be burned to the ground, and the land sold to feed the poor. All the fine silks and jeweled rings the Cardinals wear should be taken and sold for charity. It's time to drive the money changers out of the temple again.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • The Dude

      No. Burn down the temple with them in it.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Jon

      The Catholic Church has done more for the poor than any other organization in the history of the world. You might try educating yourself before you spout nonsense and ignorance, not to mention your bigoted remarks that endorse violence and hate.

      October 30, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • JohnK

      Yes, they have a .01% corruption rate, so screw them all? You people are nimrods.

      http://apiusman.blogspot.com/2011/05/evil-religions-2-baby-raping-catholic.html

      October 30, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  10. Joe

    We should hunt them the same way we hunt al-Qaeda and marijuana smokers!

    October 30, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Hmmm

      Heh... al-qaeda and pot smokers are one and the same... interesting...

      October 30, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • TiredOfYouToo

      Really? Associating Al-Qaeda and pot smokers? What a moron.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  11. imastarchick

    The church knew he was guilty, it says they were "trying" to turn him in, but still gave him a position until 2009 in churches in Mexico, long after he was wanted by authorities in the USA... He even held these positions in Mexico even after the recent abuse scandals erupted here... So the Church is guilty of hiding a fugitive from justice, and now they say they dont have any responsibility for him... Time to shake the Catholic Church to its foundations for this. Where is the international criminal court???

    October 30, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  12. Disgusted to the max

    There should be no statute of limitations on prosecuting child abuse, and until we demand that the laws change to punish these creeps, we will continue to see them protected by their church. The church should be prosecuted as an accomplice in this vile, worldwide cover up.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  13. Frank

    I do not want to talk about Jesus, I just want to see his face.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  14. hippypoet

    burn them like the witches they are! stretch them across the rack! let the horses pull there limbs apart! they are not above the law and never were, they only act above and give off the sense of you are not as worthy as they and therefore let them be... thats been the curches ultimate pride shining thru and i think its high time they have a dose of reality inserted in there rears! lets heat up those pokers and get ready for a journey of @ssholic church-@ssertions from the mouth on up!

    October 30, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • agFinder

      'their' limbs ..., 'their' rears ...

      October 30, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  15. DinoF

    leave the priests alone. Big deal... 1% of priests do wrong. What about the 99% who are good. The government should stay out of chuch affairs. If the government wants to mess with the church affairs, then they must abolish the biggest hollacuast ever...ABORTION.

    October 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Horrified

      Church affairs!?! This is a criminal matter. A church is not an organization capable or allowed to prosecute it's own criminals. The law is the law, and criminals are subject to judgement by the judicial branch of the government. I think you are in the wrong country.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • tensor

      Oh, please, go finish 3rd grade, then come back. Beyond being an absurd apologist for the enormous number of immoral and criminally liable rapists inside the Vatican, you obviously have no respect for women AND haven't clue one how to spell Holocaust, which means you also know little of Nazi Catholic persecution and murder of Jews during WWII.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • RIC

      1 percent..where did you get your stats?..And it is a big deal..Unless you dont mind if that 1 percent happens to be your own child.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Pathetic little man. I guess nonviable little clusters of cells are more important than living. breathing children to you. You sound like a child loses importance to you after it is born. You are no better than those priests who abuse children.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Tom

      You're right. Nobody wants to talk about abortion; that's too sensitive and the people who support it know they're wrong. "Nazi Catholics"? What a crock. Look at Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler. Atheist mass murderers, every one.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • agFinder

      holocaust

      October 30, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Hmmm

      6000 priests are way too many... That's in the US alone. More than 6000 children. It is shameful to want to ignore that statistic. That is not acceptable.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • ziegfeldf

      Inquisition.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • TiredOfYouToo

      You are repulsive and naive. Let me out this in plain english. I am a Christian but if just one of those priests touched one of my children, I would then have to decided between killing them or being their for my child to help them through it. Leave the priests alone? Either way, they are still considered priests.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So you support child abuse as well, Tom? This isn't about abortion. This is about a church that protects child abusers. Nice try at deflection, though.

      October 30, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Tyler

      The Old Testament is very clear that life begins when God breathes His Spirit into you, and you start breathing. No breath = no life. That is why the punishment for murder is death, but the punishment for causing a woman to miscarry is a fine. Abortion kills nobody. But 1% of priests is thousands, and the human devastation that they cause is an abomination.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      DinoF, Abortion has nothing on the number of lost sperm. And Tom, Hitler was Christian.

      October 30, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Tom

      50 million dead children. Yeah, let's wait for the right time to speak about that. Certainly not in the context of child abuse.

      October 30, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • Tom

      Hitler was a Christian? What are they teaching you kids. Hitler's God was Germany. He was no follower of Jesus Christ. Yowww.

      October 30, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  16. ja-coffalotte

    ALL religious people are mentally ill on some level, the more devout you are to your brand of crazy, the more dangerous you are to your fellow human beings

    October 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Al

      I don't know. I find extremists of every stripe dangerous, including the atheistic ones.

      October 30, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      How dangerous, Al?

      October 30, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  17. Huges

    What is this about statue of limitations. I know of a case of child abuse where the perp's came from one state into another to abuse the children they were related to, the victims home state gave the offenders permanent no contact orders. I was told that because it was a crime committed by "out of state" perps that the victims home states statues did not protect them for they were not residents. They could not be protected by the resident status in their own state for the crime was not committed there. If the Vatican is a "state" of it's own then would the priest be considered non resident of where they serve? Or even with the fact they have moved them from state to state? Maybe I'm confused...although the whole world is owned by...the one they will have to answer to and I am sure he has NO statues of limitations...

    October 30, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • kimsland

      Pretty sure child s exual abuse is generally a crime in most countries or states.
      If Mexico say that they don't mind this behavior, and anyone residing in their country is 'beyond the reach of the law'. Then I'd recommend that any family living there to get out as soon as they can.

      ... I just decided to go read up on their laws.
      You have my permission to invade mexico, they are obviously worse than religion.
      If your child is known to be abducted to mexico and you have unsuccessfully tried to legally get them home, then quite obviously you should take law into your own hands and get them back yourself (since that's what I'd do)

      October 30, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  18. Alan

    God is organised crime's most lucrative confidence scam, and there is a new sucker being made by their own parents who ignorantly pass on their ignorance to their offspring, while believing they are teaching morality. Religion has nothing to do with real ethics.

    October 30, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  19. victim in pa

    http://molestedbybishopzubik@yolasite.com

    October 30, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  20. Reality

    From p. 1:

    The "vomit-inducing" ped-ophilia and coverup will simply hasten the elimination of all religions as we know them. It is time to replace all religions with a few rules like "Do No Harm" and convert all houses of "worthless worship" to recreation facilities and parks.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • Carml

      Amen !!!

      October 30, 2011 at 11:18 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.