home
RSS
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. Kristal

    how can so called people of god be allowed to molest kids and not be villified by the church' its not right that a childs rights get swepped away because some1 does not want 2 make waves (hang them i say) its hard 2 believe theres no prove whatsoever there is a god yet humans worship words lol i no longer believe in a make believe god just so people can grab money lol fools r smarter then believers of religion.

    October 30, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  2. steward

    Has the Archbishop of Los Angeles requested the Pope to direct the suspect to surrender himself to civil authorities or else face excommunication and defrocking?

    October 30, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  3. Virginia

    I'm not catholic, but c'mon people, the Atheist community has been just as light on the Pedo's as the Catholics.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Piper

      I hear the words you pulled out of your air.. but do you have anything to back it up? is there an athiest community inst.itution whose members have been accused and insti.tution tried to cover it up in a very shameful orderly manner?

      October 30, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Meh

      Wait, I'm confused... which international atheist organization habitually moved about and protected their pedophile members? Or are you referring to atheists in the priesthood?

      October 30, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Canuck73

      Do us all a favor and never comment onine about anything again. Stick to itunes sweety.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  4. Eli

    As long as Catholics practice complacency this behavior will continue. Read your bible and take responsibility for your faith. You will be surprised what you will find out. Oh but I forget...this religion does not encourage us to actually read the bible. Interesting!!!!

    October 30, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  5. Rohan

    Globally, the Catholic church does more for the sick and the poor in one single day, then all the atheists who will ever comment on these CNN articles will do in their lifetime. Of course there will be replies to this now, but none of them will be intelligent.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Ann

      Wow - that is great about all the good work that Catholics do in the world. But how about the church not hide this abuse that ruins thousands of lives due to the molestation of young boys and girls by their priests? Then they are just sent from parish to parish to continue to ruin lives. I'm pretty sure this horror erases all of that "good" the church is doing - wouldn't you say?

      October 30, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Bob Seidensticker

      I'll add yet another reply that's not intelligent.

      Why look to religion for reasons to do good things when there are so many better non-religious reasons? Surely you're not saying that you can't figure out what's right and what's wrong without the church (or the Bible) telling you?

      October 31, 2011 at 3:03 am |
    • ThinkForYourself

      It takes one billion Catholics to do more good than a few dozen atheists? I know a lot of good Catholics, so I think you're probably selling them short.

      October 31, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  6. Nokoolaid

    Does anyone wonder why so many priests are pedophiles? What draws a pedophile to Catholicism? Here's a thought. All of religion is at its core Sales. In religion people are selling a product that doesn't exist. Not an ounce of proof for the billions of dollars they are receiving usually out of fear. This is an act of a predator. To take from others for nothing in return. The pedophile is the most horrible extension of this ugly serpent.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Rohan

      Nokoolaid, how many priests are pedophiles? What % of the church's total priest count is that? There was around 410,000 catholic priests as of 2007. What % of adults in the general population are pedophiles? Answer those questions then come back and spew some more garbage if you can.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  7. eyeson

    American Church of Atheists "not happy until you believe what we believe"

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

      Indeed, we will not be happy until everyone is against pedophilia.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  8. Cathy

    I wish cnn would report pedophilia scandals in other places than the Catholic Church for a change. How about in the schools? This is just bigotry.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • susanbellnc

      Actually, this type of thing happens in places like the Catholic church more so than in schools. Children are not often alone with teachers now-a-days, and people are more wary of "regular" folks than they are of priests and such. Many people still feel that if someone is a priest or preacher, they have this calling from God and are good people who would never hurt anyone. Especially people who have been brought up in a religious home and taught that those who run the church are close to being God-like themselves.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • ThinkForYourself

      Do you know of school districts that routinely cover up se.xual abuse by teachers and move teachers to other schools so that they can continue to prey on innocent children while paying hush money to victims?

      October 31, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      I think your definition of the term bigotry is slightly wrong. How is reporting a crime and letting people know the truth about the church bigotry? If anything it is protecting children from further potential harm by people within authority within that church. Maybe if the Catholic church would stop protecting these pedophiles and start letting them be prosecuted as they should be, there would not be need to widely spread the news.
      As for the schools, please give evidence to this fact. I can guarantee that the stats pertaining to schools won't even remotely come close to that of the catholic church.
      The church needs to be exposed over and over again until it finally caves and no-one attends. The children need to be protected not the church itself or its leaders.
      For you to even support this makes one wonder the type of person you are. It is sickening and the children deserve better.

      October 31, 2011 at 4:31 am |
  9. Annexian

    They've been doing this for years. Any priest is a perv, they go "Deus Ex Machina" and relocate him to a country that's poor so he can mess with little brown boys. In India they pure do NOT let ANY priest (double plus Catholic, but NOT just) alone with ANY boy. Oh, if they are nice, charitable Christians, good. Raving "jack chick" stuff tolerated. But simply NO kids alone with priests for ANY reason.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  10. David Martin

    And this is just another reason why ALL religions should not be tax-exempt. Maybe removing the Catholic church's status until they turn over ALL abusers for prosecution for their crimes will force them into doing the right thing.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  11. The Dude

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JlxbKtBkGM

    October 30, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  12. Mr Chihuahua

    Fry his face and privates to a crisp on a George Foreman grill lol!

    October 30, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  13. Rose

    @mjschriner if you are going to place the burden on all priests and bishops, even those who didn't have anything to do with it then you too must be blamed for not doing anything about it. You are just as guilty as they are and have just as much to do with it as they do. How dare you accuse the WHOLE Church for the sins of the few!!!! You are just as much of a hypocrite as they are, you sin too and if you were Catholic just because of the priests and bishops then you were not even 'Catholic' at all. There is much more to the faith then them...by denying the Catholic Church you are denying yourself to the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the Mass and well you know what the Bible says about that. You are doing exactly what the Evil one wanted you to do when he tempted these people to commit these crimes he knew people not deeply rooted in the faith would run in the midst of this trial. Did you see the other 11 Apostles flee when Judas the Iscariot turn Jesus over to Pontius Pilate to be killed???? NO. The sins of the individual are not the sins of the whole.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Kyle

      The catholic church is responsible because they have knowledge of the crime and do not assist in bringing the criminal to justice. If anyone has knowledge of a crime and does not bring that information to the authorities they are guilty.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Canuck73

      Rose, Kyle is right.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      Actually the sins of the individual are the sins of everyone else. Anyone who moves these pigs around to protect them from the criminal justice system, anyone who still attends, anyone who throws their money at this organized child rapist ring are all deserving of punishment. Stop supporting the group and start supporting the children...have some morals!

      October 31, 2011 at 4:35 am |
  14. Karloff

    The catholic church has aided and abetted and is aiding and abetting these sick, perverted creeps. This is a vile and sick organization.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • mary Jane

      The big clue in this article, is that supposedly the Catholic Church reported his abuse. . . but four years later, he was still a priest and Mexico and abusing other children.
      There is not anyway, The Church can defend itself on this one. I'm appalled.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • eyeson

      as long as there are gay priests....

      October 30, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  15. Ginamero

    The Catholic church has covered for these pedophiles for centuries. I haven't a clue as to why the church would not do their best to protect the weakest members in their care. Is that what Jesus wants? Pederast to represent him on Earth. That's how I feel about the Catholic church. And every time I see some idiot with a bumper sticker that says, "I'm grateful for the thousands of priests who have helped." I want to ram them with my car...bunch of freaks.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  16. Canuck73

    In Canada, a background check and RCMP (U.S. FBI equivalent) clearance permit is REQUIRED for anyone who is in direct, unsupervised contact with children, the elderly and disabled. This should be implemented in all 1st-world nations but it is not, notably, the United States. Beaurocracy seems to be their peoples' worst enemy.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Ginamero

      Unfortunately and fortunately we have a separation of church and state and the Catholic church can move their pederast around with impunity...but nurses and daycare workers need to be vetted. We have it, just not for clergy...they cruise around on the grace of God.

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

      Ever since this scandal was brought to light every person who works with kids in Catholic diocese's have to undergo Child protection training and Federal and State finger printing and back ground check. This includes the Clergy!! Get your facts right before you start spreading false information to smear the Church because you don't like it.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Canuck73

      @Ginamero, I agree.

      The recent Boy Scouts of America scandal led me to believe otherwise. It's behavior has been distubingly similar to that of the Catholic church. If the democratic system of governance is to work, it MUST remain secular.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Canuck73

      @Rose

      How did my comments "smear" the Catholic religion? False comments? Please elaborate, for all of us...

      October 30, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Rose: Smearing the church will stop when every single one of the pedophiles within is brought to justice. This church deserves to be smeared. How about you stop supporting the pigs and start supporting the victims? The church sets out their own rules as to who is allowed within, not the state...get your facts straight!

      October 31, 2011 at 4:44 am |
  17. allenwoll

    The Old West had a simple, but effective solution:

    "WANTED ; DEAD OR ALIVE : $100,000".

    I recommend its restoration.

    October 30, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • KeninTexas

      Simple but effective.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  18. mjschriner

    Om behalf of all Catholics I am disgusted with our religious leaders and apologize to all the victims for massive cover up the Church has attempted. I renounce my faith in the Catholic religion but not in God.

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

      You are better than I am. I can't justify any belief taught to me by any of them.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • allenwoll

      You are a good person.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Rose

      @mjschriner if you are going to place the burden on all priests and bishops, even those who didn't have anything to do with it then you too must be blamed for not doing anything about it. You are just as guilty as they are and have just as much to do with it as they do. How dare you accuse the WHOLE Church for the sins of the few!!!! You are just as much of a hypocrite as they are, you sin too and if you were Catholic just because of the priests and bishops then you were not even 'Catholic' at all. There is much more to the faith then them...by denying the Catholic Church you are denying yourself to the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the Mass and well you know what the Bible says about that. You are doing exactly what the Evil one wanted you to do when he tempted these people to commit these crimes he knew people not deeply rooted in the faith would run in the midst of this trial. Did you see the other 11 Apostles flee when Judas the Iscariot turn Jesus over to Pontius Pilate to be killed???? NO. The sins of the individual are not the sins of the whole.

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

      If you could so easily renounce your faith based on the mistakes of some sick individuals, then you never understood the faith to begin with...Read your bible and attend mass every now and then...that might help!

      Sad!

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

      Rose,

      I am sorry but I completely disagree with you. The sins of a few are shared by the many. In fact, ask any priest in any parish if they knew about other priest committing these acts. If they said they didn't know then they are liars, if they did know, then what did they do to stop them. The Church acted in concert to hide the offenders, which made them ALL guilty. This is the crime of the millennium and anyone in the religion that does not acknowledge this is the same as the hierarchy that covered it up.

      To abuse innocent children under the guise of religion is the worst crime I could ever imagine and again I apologize to the victims on behalf of the criminals that have committed these crimes and to those who covered them up.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Rohan

      If you renounce your catholic faith, then you can't speak "Om behalf of all Catholics"

      October 30, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "If you could so easily renounce your faith based on the mistakes of some sick individuals, then you never understood the faith to begin with...Read your bible and attend mass every now and then...that might help!"

      hmmmm didnt know you had to attend mass to be faithful in god. The only reason to attend mass is to give your money to the church. You can lead a faithful life without church, however the church wont be around long if they dont have people filling up the seats giving there money away. Sorry but religion is big business. Faith is personal.

      October 31, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  19. irma1957

    Remove their cajones!

    October 30, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  20. Johnson

    We should waterboard the Cardinals and Bishops. They know everything.

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

      LOL! I love it.

      October 30, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • eyeson

      Cardinals won it all

      October 30, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Advertisement
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.