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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. Vanessa

    CNN has a literal mandate to portray Christianity in a poor light. My cousin has been an assistant editor there for the past 18 months, and is stuck in that department. They have weekly brainstorming sessions to generate ideas for stories, and most positive stories are shot down instantly. Nobody publically asks why, but they all know the reasons. He says anything "the other guys" (presumambly Fox News) promote has to be spun around here 180 degrees.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Mr Chihuahua

      Liar? party of one? Your table's ready, this way please lol!

      October 30, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Pattypal

      I don't think that any type of mandate could assist in spinning the subject matter of this story as any worse than it is. Stop trying to 'protect' something that doesn't need or deserve protection. So many here are more outraged by their perception of an attack on their religion than they are by what their religion has done. In no small way, the Catholic church as assisted, enabled and sanctioned this criminal and immoral behavior for centuries. And, if the members of the church do not demand change, aren't they guilty to some degree in this conspiracy with the church to allow this to continue and to hide these people from justice?

      October 30, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  2. Sam

    ATHEISTS, CATHOLICS, MUSLIMS, MORMONS WHATEVER.....You are ALL RELIGIOUS NUTBAGS(yes, even Atheists have a religion – they bash everyone just as much for not going along with themselves). You ALL need to shutup and respect each other!

    October 30, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • yeppers32

      Follow your own advice Sam.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Earl

      The first intelligent comment on this board.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
    • Deb

      LMAO!!

      October 30, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Bart

      Well said. We (atheists) are becomming just as annoying now and there's some real immature people here.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • squiddy79

      Atheism is not a religion it just simply means one does not believe in god... or the devil for that matter. You should get your facts straight.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Atheism is no religion, though there are some that enjoy the simplicity of bashing the religious.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Bill

      Atheism IS a religion. You have a belief (there is no God – we can't prove it just as it can't be proved there is one), you support it, and you bash peoples of other religions. FACE IT

      October 30, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • JT

      So, lacking a belief in a deity (atheism) is a religion? What do you call someone who does not collect stamps? A hobby?

      October 30, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Rohan

      Agreed. Atheists are just as much a religion these days as anyone.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  3. Mike in Ohio

    I have an idea. Those of us who are atheists, stop trashing other folks' beliefs. Those of us who are church folks, don't trash the atheists. We all need to stand up together to the molestors, be it in a Roman collar or protestant church, or teachers, or coaches, or boy scout leaders, or anyone else who assaults kids. Those actions are the ones which need to be condemned, not other folks' beliefs about the existence or non-existence of god.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Bob Loblaw

      Well said Mike.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Pattypal

      Well said.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      It would be interesting to see solid data on the incidence of pedophilia in various professions. Of course, you'd think a holier-than-thou profession would have a low incidence.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  4. government cheese

    It was just 2 months ago that liberals in the AMA were trying to get the charge of molestation dropped as a law. Stating that these people are "misunderstood."

    October 30, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • grumpy

      You're lying, just to start a fight.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • government cheese

      Look it up, bumpy.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Give a reference, Cheese! Who are the "AMA liberals"?

      October 30, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  5. reality check

    Atheists are promoting their own ath-hole agenda.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • grumpy

      If you're waiting for jesus, he's shacked up in a cheap motel with a prossi and a bottle of gin, so don't expect him for at least a few more hours.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Federer

      Grumpy, you need to try harder. Think harder. You can come up with something good, maybe,

      October 30, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Pattypal

      Federer, I thought Grumpy made a good point. Don't you think that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a few drinks once in awhile?

      October 30, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      "Reality check" is evidently oxymoronic.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  6. adamthefirst

    cnn continues to bash Catholics.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • jessy

      So a news network reporting stuff that actually happened in the Catholic Church is bashing Catholics? Wow....

      October 30, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Federer

      One article mentioning of the crimes committed by a group of former priests, sure. Jesse, if you come on this website regularly, you'll notice that something of the order of 90%+ of the Belief Blog articles are written putting Christianity in a negative light. That's a fact. That's an agenda.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • LLL

      Yeah yeah...just like your priests who like to molest little boys. If your God exists and condones you sitting in a church filled with pedophiles then you can have him. Now...can I go take a shower?

      October 30, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • sosad

      CNN bashing Catholics? Well thank heaven for that. I am a Catholic and I think it is integral for the church to be reminded of this. It was swept under the rug for so many years, even by our now Pope. Cardinal Ratzinger refused to defrock known pedophiles, and now he is infalliable? Granted this is only when speaking from the chair, but I find it disgusting what the leaders of the Church have allowed, and can allow a MAN who has known about a abuse and been a conduit for continuing abuse by shifting priests from parish to parish. – "Lord allow me to be an instrument of your PEACE," not piece.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Guest

      Jesse,,,,, actually he's right. Just watch this blog and you'll see that CNN just rehashes the same stories over and over. This particular story has been on the website for several days, yet today it's on the front page. Why?
      Report the news, but don't report the same story as news every few months like it's a new revelation.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Pattypal

      Federer – you think that ONE article that mentions this subject is sufficient coverage? Isn't this something that should be covered until it CHANGES?

      October 30, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  7. Gameplayer

    The best days are when the catholic church is no more.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • LLL

      Amen

      October 30, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • hamboy

      again i urge folks to put this in perspective, thses priests are gay.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Pattypal

      Amen, brother. And, these priests are not all gay...I doubt that most of them are gay.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  8. saleem

    If this is true, I have no clue how he lives with himself and I wonder how he will make good with the Creator of the earth

    October 30, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • kimsland

      Yes I wonder how jesus as a child got through this?
      Oh yeah there's no information at all when jesus was growing up, oh dear.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Pattypal

      Jesus didn't have to deal with this growing up, because there was no Catholic church.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Pattypal, pedophilia must go beyond and before the Catholic Church.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • PattyPal

      It wasn't clear from my statement, but I meant as a Christian...it was more of a joke.

      October 31, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  9. Ken

    grumpy, get your head back down. You have work to do.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • grumpy

      Yeah, trying to keep you out of my pants. If you like picking up strange men online, try CraigsList. I hear they cater to perverts. You should do well.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  10. chieatfetus

    sterilization & appendage amputation!!!

    October 30, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  11. kimsland

    Catholic Priest: We are taking some of the catholic daughters on a camp overnight
    Ignorant Parent: Ah huh, so who's attending so far?
    Catholic Priest: Just your daughter and me.
    Ignorant Parent: I can't see any harm in that!

    No, but I can see a dead catholic priest one day.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  12. Cassandra Chu

    My rabbi, a psychiatrist, enrolled me in the MK ULTRA program... but nobody cried "ABUSE!". Double-standards.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Nick

      Lucky. I wish I could drop acid legally

      October 30, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  13. Bellinda

    Atheists on this board are just another form of racists. They can't accept other people's right to freedom of religion, so they attack them.

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

      I'll make you a deal: You shut up about god and we'll shut up about how he doesn't exist. We don't want to hear from you any more than you want to hear from us.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Bellinda

      Grumpy, nobody's forcing you inside a church.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • saleem

      Very good point. Atheists believe in not believing, they just don't believe it though. Ha!

      October 30, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • Pattypal

      First of all, religion isn't a race. So, you can't be a racist just because you dislike religion. Secondly, I doubt that the average atheist gives a hoot what religion you follow. They probably only shake their heads at your decidedly bigoted remark and wonder (like many of the rest of us here) how you can spew that crap and see yourself as religious. Sort of like the pedophile priest that does what he does and still sees himself as a person worthy to shroud himself in a religious cloak.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • LLL

      Freedom of religion does NOT include molesting children!!

      October 30, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • saleem

      I have a question, seriously. How does one look at the beauty and awesomeness of the earth, the universe, the world, and come to the conclusion, that there is no God, that everything just...pow happened or something. Please explain someone who does not believe. Please

      October 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      LLL, Freedom of religion should not also mean the killing of thousands in Africa by declaring the use of condoms to be immoral.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  14. tallulah13

    I find it horrifying how many catholics come on these boards, not angry that children have been and are being se.xually abused, but to defend those who prey on those children, and to call the victims liars. Any god who would consider this sort of thing to be a virtue is vile creature indeed.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • Paul

      Have not read those posts, but please don't blame God... blame ignorant people doing things, or saying things, in the name of God.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • LLL

      Oh yeah Paul..your God saves but he doesn't protect? What is wrong with you people? Your god is no more relevant than Gumby.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I don't blame god; I don't believe in god. I am saying those who would rather protect pedophiles than children just because they think their church is beyond reproach is worshiping something vile.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  15. John Ford

    it pains me to read this as a Catholic. these priests are supposed to be examples and because of these evil acts it makes the Catholic Church look horrible. I really wish we could put these pigs to justice.

    October 30, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Wow, just as I post my disgust with some catholics, here's a catholic who stands up for justice. Thank you, John Ford, for being someone who cares.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Tom Whicker

      I am catholic and Kof C Member. What these priests have done. They need to be kick out of the church and go stright to jail!!! It make's it hard to say you are a catholic.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • cagirl

      I was a catholic. I am ashamed of the Catholic church. No, it is not just the priests who are bad and make the 'holy' catholic church looks bad. Catholic church is rich and corrupt. Have you ever been to the Vatican and heard how they robbed Rome to build the Vatican palace? Have you heard of how corrupt the church is? I officially quit Catholic church after my brother was brainwashed by some priests to join the priesthood, so much that I couldn't believe things he said. Instead of speaking about love, he was this one self centered person who said that God will take care of his aging mother, and that such and such saints also decided to not care for their aging parents. He broke my elderly mom's heart so badly and he talked to mom that he was leaving so that he could suffer and live in poverty. Figure that, this was one woman who sold everything she had and worked 14 hours/day to send him to college after my dad passed away and left us in bankruptcy, hoping that he'd have a better life. So much of catholic church. So much is for the priest of the covent who was there trying to speak for my brother to me! And so much is for God. If God exists, may I pray that these people burn in hell.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Cagirl is right. If you ever have a chance, just try walking through the Vatican. After awhile, the opulence overwhelms you with the thought of how many poor people died to make this palace.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  16. eyeson

    When a Catholic says he believes in God he is ridiculed by people that hate the church but when a person says they were abused by clergy it's suddenly 100% fact.

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

      Because the clergy exist. god doesn't. How hard was that?

      October 30, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • tallulah13

      There is no proof of any god. There is ample proof of pedophiles.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Bellinda

      Hey Grumpy, prove it.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • grumpy

      Look around, belinda, the proof is everywhere. Although, if I'm wrong and god does exist, he's one twisted psychopath.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  17. Mr Chihuahua

    Give the dirty pedo a Puerto Vallarta necktie lol!

    October 30, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  18. government cheese

    As liberals try to enhance gay rights, the rate of child molestations rise.

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

      You're confusing liberals with the church.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Lets see some numbers to back up that accusation. Please use a neutral source.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Pattypal

      Huh? First, what does that have to do with this issue? Secondly, if you believe that someone is more likely to molest a child because they are gay, you ARE a piece of gov't cheese.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Grumpy, Cheese is simply confused. And not such a good troll!

      October 30, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  19. Sam

    Atheists, Catholics, Muslims....you're ALL a bunch on nut-bags, each with your own belief, with a love of attacking the other groups.

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

      Atheist DON'T believe in fairy tales
      I agree the others ones mentioned are nut-bags though

      October 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • tallulah13

      And you just hate everyone.

      October 30, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Sam the man

      good thing you are here, having the corner on the truth, must be difficult to be correct always

      October 30, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • David in Cincinnati

      Nah, Tellulah13, Sam pretty much loves himself. Maybe that will keep his hands off of little children though.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  20. Bobby

    Church: Defend your flock, quit protecting Wolves in Sheeps Clothing!!!

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

      Quit raping boys!

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

      This isn't news. Most s..x offenders get away with their crimes due to the statute of limitations in most states. And it is appalling that CNN only likes to cover clergy abuse when the MOST abuse happens by family members, neighbors, relatives. Check out the report done by Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:00 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.