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. Bobb

    With the inteligence capabilities that the Church has they could locate these child molesting priests if they really wanted to. They have a responsibility to their members to weed out the bad ones. It's common courtesy if nothing else.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Michael

      Well said!

      October 30, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  2. Ram

    Your screen name seems to perfectly capture the fact that it is not about the abusive priests alone (or obfuscation by citing rates of abuse) – but an organized criminal endeavor that extends far into the Catholic hierarchy.

    There is not now and never has been any excuse what what is not excusable.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  3. JackTaraz

    Arrest the POPE on RICI charges!! WHY is HE ammune from prosecution. He Knew, and even currently KNOWS, about the pedophiles working for him. If they refuse extradition, then WAIT for him to visit a "friendly" country and pick him up there. He is a two but felon, masquerading as some kind of Holy Man. Holy Men are NEVER involved in crimes. You cannot even IMAGINE the Dali Lhama Being involved in this, right or wrong?

    October 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  4. The Dude

    Your numbers are of reported cases. There are countless others that go unreported. I would put it at about 15%

    October 30, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  5. kryg

    CNN and other media have done a great job stereotyping Catholic priests as pedophiles even though a small percentage of them are and that percentage is actually small compared to men in other sectors of society. People who made mistakes/crimes and have been rehabilated also have a right to privacy and a new life. If they are no longer messing around, old, and sick let them live in peace. And why does CNN keep on publishing articles about Catholic priests pedophiles? The pattern seems to show that many CNN writers are anti-Catholic.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • The Dude

      Would you leave your child alone with a priest you didn't know?

      October 30, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • TheDudeAbides

      Hey, another "Dude" screen name! Nice!

      October 30, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Judy Jones

      You might want to check out this web site.. Over 3,000 credibly accused predator priests. And these are only the ones who have been made public..and they are only the ones in the USA...
      click the map..

      October 30, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • JackTaraz

      YOU are an enabler. The POPE has FULL KNOWLEDGE of these monsters, and does NOTHING. He is guilty under the RICO Statutes.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • jimmy111

      it has nothing to do with being anti-catholic. 6000 have been prosecuted, and how many more have gotten away with it. It is a serious problem, and CNN does a great public service by bringing it to the surface.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Or maybe it's covered because decent people are anti-pedophile and this is the "Belief Blog." Ever consider that?

      October 30, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  6. kimsland

    Using the non-sensational statistics compiled by the John J study, the average abuse rate for "clergy" (of all denominations) .. hovers @ around 3%
    So approx. 1 in every 30 people at church is a pedo.
    If you have 30 people in your church, GET OUT of there, and save your kids.

    I hope that helps churchies reconsider taking children to this fearful no questions asked, place of bullsh!t.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
  7. eyeson

    Are there any hidden videos, photos, stained clothing a la Lewinsky? All I ever hear are allegations, accusations, scandals ect... Many of these priests are are even dead. I remember one of these cases in California where a boy made an accusation of abuse and later in court admitted it was all a lie but only after the pastor lost his church, wife and just about everything else.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • The Dude

      Well he still had his faith so no harm done.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • kimsland

      6000 children don't lie.
      Children need to be heard and they ARE allowed to ask questions, since this is normal childhood.
      Faithful religion and innocent children do not mix.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • eyeson

      Atheists would swear Jesus was real if he had preached atheism.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • The Dude

      Atheists do not preach. We want to be left alone for the most part.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • eyeson

      Most of these people are adults that claim they were abused when they were children. I'm not saying that that there were no abusers because I was not there. Accusations can be a powerful tool, especially when there's a lot of money to be paid out.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • eyeson

      Atheists don't preach? An atheist group came to our church to tell us that we were basically dumb as the people leaving. Our priest asked us to politely deal with them.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • myviewtoo

      You are a complete Moron these are children who many did not come forward until later because of fear or embarrassment you must not be a Catholic to not know the power priest have over the people of the Catholic congregation especially before the 90's whatever a priest stated was law the sheep believed and followed and in that following many many children were abused and it was easy to do for them we children and I am a female were sent to priest for punishment by ourselves no one else around I do have to than God that nothing ever happened to me in that way but I did find out of other children in other Catholic schools that this happened to and yes they were afraid and/or embarrassed to come forward so please shut your pie hole or did a priest get a hold of you and you liked it

      October 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • jk

      To the Dude: Atheists have nothing to preach because they are morally and spiritually empty inside. And If they try to preach, they spread hate, chaos, and bad news. Without knowing they're agents of the evil spirit.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • tallulah13

      eyeson? Why are you defending pedophiles? Why can't you accept that there are truly evil people, even within your beloved church? Do you think that the sacrifice of children is okay if it protects your personal delusion?

      October 30, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  8. Porter

    I’m trying to find the logic in a lot of these posts. If a pedophile is a priest, we should hate all priests and disband the Catholic Church, but if he is a public school teacher, we should have him arrested and charged, but not close the public school system or hate all teachers? Why not just have that priest arrested. Why do we all hate the priesthood and the entire Catholic Church for what a handful of its representatives did?

    October 30, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • PulTab

      6000 sounds like more than a handful to me. But who's counting. Not the fairy tale believers obviously.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • The Dude

      The Public School system does not hide their crimes and move them to other schools to continue their abuse.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Commenter

      Porter, "Why do we all hate the priesthood and the entire Catholic Church for what a handful of its representatives did?"

      The Catholic Church COVERED UP these crimes for decade upon decade. That's the difference. When they found out about the offenses they just moved the offenders around to other parishes and venues (once in a while after a visit to a rehab-type facility). The hierarchy of the Church - all the way to the top - participated in obstruction of justice, and contributed to further crimes being committed by the perverts. If you are a Catholic, you were betrayed.

      They *say* that they are reporting them now... but who knows really.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • tallulah13

      A) A school system provides a valuable service and B) if it was proven that the leaders of that school system protected pedophile teachers, they would all be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  9. Hoffa


    October 30, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Ram

      Just as the damage done by Watergate was not the break-in itself, but the cover-up - The horrific reality is that the real crimes were not "merely" molesting little boys, but an comphrensive cover-up that extended far up the latter into the Catholic hierarchy.

      We have the incredibly disgusting situation of the unholy father directing what appears to be an international crime ring masquerading as a religion, complete with lies, shifting felon priests from one place to another, millions of parishioners contributions, and payoffs.

      How anyone can remain a Catholic in an organization that seems to implicitly condone perverted men to do this is beyond me.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  10. GauisJulius

    So continues the fight between the religious and those that say they are "open-minded" but don't miss an opportunity to insult those that do believe. CNN doesn't skip a beat in this silent war, and if not showing secular pastors, won't stop until everyday there is some story of some pedephile. The truth is pedephiles will stop at nothing to be in front of children, even going as far as to appear religious to get that opportunity. Those that say religion does this are crazy...people can always conform their likes to line-up with an opportunity to one-up someone...especially again pedephiles.

    October 30, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Ram

      Larry –

      You miss the point. It's not just that pedaphiles enter into the priesthood - it is a culture that condones this outrage of conduct.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • tallulah13

      The catholic church protected pedophiles. Hence the outrage.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  11. Carbine

    I agree with marshall, lets talk about pastor Jeremiah Wright if were gonna talk about every other politicians religious associations.

    October 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • GauisJulius

      That would go against their desired effects, which is to show conservatives religious people as the bad guys, since they usually don't vote for democrats. rev. Wright won't be brought up, because that would put Obama in a bad light. To date, since Obama has been elected, the only negative stories they have done on Obama is from the ultra-left...mad that he hasn't delivered their radical hope and change.

      October 30, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  12. Just a person

    Maybe there should be a disbelief section.

    October 30, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  13. vsk

    Religion divides people!

    Sooner people realize that so called priests take them for a ride, the sooner they will be more educated.

    Think about it! If there is a god why not you talk "directly" to him (or her). Why the hell do you need a middle man (or women)?

    If you carefully analyze, the poorest always believe in god and there are lot of middle man (priests!) who give a false hope that some great power will help these poor soles! Wake up america! Don't be fooled!

    You are the creator of your own destiny!

    October 30, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  14. Jon

    I'm waiting for the CNN article about all the public school teachers who do the exact same thing. The rate among teachers is much higher than among priests, and they continue to get shuffled around from school to school. Where is the expose on that?

    And seriously, you want to get rid of the statute of limitations? Yeah, let's just trash all due process. This is simply an example of trial attorneys who think the Catholic Church is wealthy trying to get all the rules bent for their personal gain. It's sickening, and CNN shouldn't be enabling it.

    October 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • PulTab

      And you shouldn't be enabling pedophiles.

      October 30, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • PulTab

      By the way, I'm guessing that CNN doesn't do a story about rampant relocating of public school teachers after they are accused of pedophilia is because there is no such story. The catholick church has the market cornered on pedophilia.

      October 30, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • pfft

      the Catholic Church isn't wealthy???

      October 30, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Jon, you evidently have read such an expose. Give a reference!

      October 30, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  15. Pauline

    The hunt for pedophiles and molesters in the Catholic Church is mostly a modern day witch hunt based on the testimony of people who want a pay-out. Everyone wants a pay-out and everyone wants to be a victim of something or someone so they can get some kind of pay-out. The result is that the USA is the most litigious country in the world and has the highest incarceration rate. All of this is just another reason why the USA is going down the tubes.

    October 30, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Just a person

      Tell that to my wife who is permanently disabled because of a reckless teen driving into her with her car.
      Tell that to the real victims of these perverts.

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

      SO all these 1000's of kids who've systematically been molested by the priests over the years should shut up because all they want is a pay out?? If some rear skinning pedo priest touch my willy when I was 12, Id say keep the money, Id want him dead by torture, like in the Inquisition days when your prescious catholic prists would torture victims to death in their own witch hunts. THeyve had this coming for centuries! Now go stick your head back in the sand you ostrich.

      October 30, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Emma

      You are an idiot!!!!

      October 30, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Ram

      Pauline –

      Your comments are an ineffective apologists' stance that are nearly as disgusting as those who committed these felonies.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Does god tell you to protect pedophiles, Pauline?

      October 30, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  16. Mr Chihuahua

    Burn all the perpetrators and all the aiding and abetting church hierarchy alive lol! Throw them down the Spanish steps then burn them with fire lol!

    October 30, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  17. Just a person

    This story doesn't belong in the belief section. It belongs in the crime section.

    October 30, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  18. maximusvad

    The power of Christ compels you.

    October 30, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  19. Texas Tumbleweed

    Religion has been the refuge of scoundrels since the beginning of time.

    October 30, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  20. tldixon

    I feel sorry for the kids molested by the pervs and I feel sorry for the handful of decent catholics I know-they've been terrorized by a manipulative corporate cult and are too scsared to think for themselves and turn their backs on a criminal enterprise

    October 30, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
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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.