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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. Victor

    Calling all American Atheists: The USA has been responsible for the needless deaths of millions throughout the world. That's a generally known fact. So given that, will you all renounce your citizenship? hmmmmmmmm

    October 30, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • grumpy

      What does that have to do with Atheists? Every religion has been responsible for the deaths of millions, except maybe Buddhism. What does that have to do with America? You're VERY confused!

      October 30, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Bellinda

      Victor's made an excellent point. Touché

      October 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Victor, I guess you think some deaths are needless, but others are needed. Millions??? You'd better break this down.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  2. Joey

    The Catholic church didn't have such problems before it became protestantized during Vatican II, and opened its doors to all levels of perversion in the name of "openness." Old rules prohibited anyone who exhibited effeminate charachteristics or other perversions from pursuing the priesthood, and were dropped in the name of political correctness and non-judgmentalism. It's high time that someone starting peeking under the covers in the protestant congregations and synagogues as well, as their thinking is at the root of the problem. Of course that's less palatable to the majority as they are members of those congregations, as well as the owners of CNN.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  3. adriana

    I'm catholic and this disgusts me!!! If only the Catholic Church would allow men/women to marry, this would not have come about!!! That's the way it used to be, before it was sanctioned. We are human beings and have desires. They need to wake up and smell the coffee!!!

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

    CNN's daily Catholic Church bashing article. Keep trying, CNN! We've been here for over a millenium, and we'll still be here long after you've vanished.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • tallulah13

      That's right, Stan! Protect pedophiles and the religious structure that protects them. What does it matter if kids are hurt? There's always more being born!

      October 30, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Stan, there's no daily Catholic bashing article. For example, try to find yesterday's.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  5. eyeson

    "I will only believe in things that can be proven except for on thing....... my disbelief in God."

    October 30, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      You can't prove whether you disbelieve??? This is about as straightforward as "Cogito ergo sum."

      October 30, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  6. James

    The two Catholic girls I've been with were absolute demons in the sack. One was the daughter of a minister and she was the wildest I've encountered. I dunno what goes on in there but...

    October 30, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Fairplay99

      You are sick.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • jk

      James you're a liar. It's remote that your friend is a daughter of a Catholic "minister." Most priests are celibate and therefore most likely no daughters. Also Catholic pastors are called "priests" and not "ministers." Start unlearning to lie and be truthful.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Norvy

      Hilarious! [rolling on the floor laughing]

      October 30, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • Norvy

      jk, James said one was the daughter of a minister, not a priest. Read closely, young 'un.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • grumpy

      "Most priests are celibate "... yeah, like most pigs can fly.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • jk

      Norvy, his statement can be interpreted as two Catholic girls and one is a daughter of a minister. Also the issue here is about Catholics. Study more English composition.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • jk

      Grumpy: "most priests are celibates" because Catholic priests of the Easter rite can marry and most Prostestant ministers who became Catholic priests remained married. Little knowlege is dangerous.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • jk

      Grumpy: I mean "Eastern Rite Catholic" priest can marry that why I wrote "most Catholic priests are celibate."

      October 30, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Norvy will laugh at most anything.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  7. Horatio

    "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". That is one sick, sad statistic right there. I could not imagine being Catholic and confessing to those perverts who are doing who knows what on the other side of the curtain.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • eyeson

      ACCUSED is different from proof.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • grumpy

      True. There were probably many more but the victims were ashamed to come forward.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      I would just like to know the statistics for other professions.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  8. God Bless the Illuminati

    Does anyone else find it odd that the Catholic church and the mafia have followed the exact same business model for 300 years?

    October 30, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Fairplay99

      According to what source?

      October 30, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • jk

      The Mafia has not existed for 300 years. Study more.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  9. eyeson

    More than half a billion dollars has been paid out. Are there any people on this planet that would lie to get a slice of that pie? I'm not saying there was no abuse because I was not there to confirm or deny it.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • grumpy

      No problem. Plenty of others have confirmed it.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • The Dude

      Why do they have that much money anyway? While people are starving in the world. That is sick!

      October 30, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • jdomn

      Why do they have that much money? It's not like they hide it in a treasure chest hidden in a secret location. The Catholic Church gives more in charity than most countries. I'm not saying that this justifies any wrong the Church has done; I'm just answering the question why do they have that much money. If you consider how large the Church is, how members are part of it, and the services they provide around the world, it makes sense that they have and need money to operate. Additionally all of the money that is collected is clearly outlined regarding how its used through a process that involved Church officials and lay people. I get it; you hate the Church, but let's keep things in focus.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  10. God Bless the Illuminati

    Isn't it odd that the Catholic church and the mafia have followed the exact same business model for more than 300 years?

    October 30, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  11. Billy

    Seriously be careful when you let your children hang around other Catholics. Since most likely their boys have been molested they will do the same to your loved ones.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • PFUI

      Billy, "Most" Catholic boys aren't/weren't molested. I'm disgusted with the Church, but keep it real, please.

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

      I have not met any Catholic male who has been molested by a priest. Your logic is wrong. Do not generalize.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Victor

      Racist

      October 30, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • PFUI

      p.s. unless, by "molested" you mean they had their minds screwed over with teachings of superst.ition and outrageous fantasy... in that case *all* religions are guilty.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Really?

      I went to a Catholic school and I was an altar boy for years. I have never been molested nor have I met anyone who was molested. All the boys I grew up with are now wonderful fathers and husbands. I have never met a priest who was anything but caring. Monsters like these individuals posing as followers of God to get close to children, as well as, ignorant people like you make this world a terrible place. I pray all these terrible priests are punished for eternity, but there is an overwhelming majority of wonderful priests out there who are under appreciated.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  12. staszek

    To me, it seems quite contrary – the Catholic community is the healthy
    strong minded part of the US society. Just look around. You are somewhat
    like the angry mob in Jerusalem screaming obscenities at Jesus. He prayed
    for them.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Meanwhile, in the real world, the catholic church has undeniably protected child abusers.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • Billy

      Staszek is defending child molestion!

      Gross!

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

      True, he didn't have much sense.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  13. cajuntide

    On evidence where new evidence comes to light everyday that shows more than science wants to admit.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Billy

      Yes and this new evidence does show more then what science wants to admit.

      Not only has the Catholic church repressed humanity for a millennium, they only allow pedophiles to preach the word of god..from their bedroom.

      Ack!

      October 30, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  14. Catholic Mafia

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heFczaIIJDA&w=640&h=390]

    October 30, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  15. TL the alligator

    when found someone should splash him with gasoline and then throw a match on him and let the chips fall where they may.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  16. The Dude

    The Catholic Church made me the Atheist I am today. And they didn't have to molest me to do it. This is true for many Atheists.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • jk

      I hear ya Dude. I have also become a reformed catholic because of the 'Christian' practices of the catholic church.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  17. Mr Chihuahua

    A priest tried to pet me but I bit him lol!

    October 30, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  18. kimsland

    Catholics are sick perverted weak minded sheep.
    And so are all the other religions. I don't discriminate.

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

      Christians also have pedophiles.most Americans just peek on the other religions.

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

      What about atheists? From what I can see here not believing in a god seems to be their main beleif. Also, it would appear that there is a large group of people loosly associated around that central belief, ie an atheist religion.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Ken

      Michael, atheism is no more a belief than not collecting stamps is a hobby. (R. Dawkins, I think).
      Atheism is no more a belief than bald is a hair color.

      Got it yet, stupid?

      October 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Hey Michael? Is being a Yankees fan a religion? Is being an American Idol fan a religion? Atheism has no tenets, there is no handbook and oddly enough, there are atheists from every walk of life. The one thing in common? We don't believe in god. That's all.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • grumpy

      You're being silly, Ken, it's a belief that there is no god. That shouldn't be too hard to understand, even for you.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Ken

      No, grumpy, it is a lack of belief. There is no reason to believe in the childish fairy tales of religions.

      Now, shut up and get back to sucking my c0ck.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • grumpy

      Did you get a transplant? You never had one before.
      And even if you did get one, you still don't have any balls.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Theresa

      @Michael: saying the atheism is a religion is like saying that not-collecting-stamps is a hobby.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  19. thes33k3r

    Isn't religion great? Oh, I know....all the defenders of the ignorance....I mean faith...will keep on spewing that this has nothing to do with religion. Beliefs matter because those who yield power will always use those beliefs to manipulate those too afraid to think for themselves. This is primarily what organized religion is about. If you don't believe me, stop giving money to the world's religions and see what happens. It cannot be said enough: base your beliefs about existence and the universe on THE EVIDENCE...not fear, laziness or wishful thinking. Wake yourself up.

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

      Amen!
      (...so to speak...)

      October 30, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  20. JackTaraz

    Arrest the POPE on RICO 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 6:11 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.