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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. John Luma, Moorpark CA

    And who has been shown by numerous local prosecutors across the country to do everything they can NOT to cooperate in assisting in the arrest and conviction of pedophile priests? Yes, the Catholic Church hierarchy, at every level. From the Pope on down, they refuse to divulge information, inform parents and communities, and turn over their records. The men who run the diocese are just as criminal in protecting those who have destroyed countless lives. They hide "behind the cloth" and try to believe they are above the law. This gross injustice needs to be confronted - they all need to be in jail.

    October 30, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  2. Robert

    You won't talk about the jewish rabbi's evolvement in molestation....WHY? ....GOOGLE THAT!!!!!

    October 30, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • Peter

      Robert, what is happening in america to the Catholic community happened in Europe before the second world war to the Jewish community. Catholics are singled out as villians. We all know were this is heading. It wasn't right then, it's not right now. When Jewish leaders say "never again" I hope they mean "never again to anyone".

      October 30, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • ThinkForYourself

      @Peter,

      I know a lot of Christians who have persecution complexes, but I've never seen on as severe as yours. Wow.

      October 31, 2011 at 3:40 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Peter
      The communal showers are that-a-way.
      Bring your rosary.

      October 31, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  3. B17

    He may have gone from the frying pan into the fire. Mexican families do not appreciate child molesters either. Probably should pray that he is not abused himself. On second thought, no prayers for this pervert priest.

    October 30, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  4. james

    Being beyond the law is a problem made by men. However, he will answer to God's law no matter what land he flee's too. Rest assured, his fate is sealed.

    October 30, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Rick

      He may be boyond's man law, but not necessarily his justice

      October 30, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Howie

      Yup

      October 30, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • ThinkForYourself

      As an atheist, this line of thinking really bothers me. To me, observing injustices and thinking 'well, justice will be served in another life' is a cop out. It's weak. It allows such injustices to continue because it weakens the motivation to fight and stop those injustices right here and now in this life.

      October 31, 2011 at 3:43 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @ThinkForYourself: Thank you, it's how I feel and it's how a great many other Atheist's feel.

      October 31, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • claybigsby

      "It allows such injustices to continue because it weakens the motivation to fight and stop those injustices right here and now in this life."

      not only that, but religion weakens the motivation to better the quality of life on earth now. If so many people, especially people in our government, think the rapture is coming in this life, what motivation do they have to better the quality of life on the planet now and for future generations?

      October 31, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  5. LCCatFan

    If the pope had as many sticking out of him as he's had stuck in him he would look like a porcupine.

    October 30, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  6. THOMAS HARDY

    I POSTED MY COMMENTS AND NOW THE COMMENT BOX IS EMPTY. WHERE DID THE COMMENTS GO?

    October 30, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • *frank*

      Your comments went to Bolivia. I'm very sorry.

      October 30, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • Uthor

      Your comments are now written on an obelisk in upper Egypt. Don't worry the capital letters are intact as you typed them.

      October 30, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  7. s767

    The Catholic church does a lot of good in the world. Unfortunately, that good is more than offset by unsustainable population growth encouraged by its ridiculous ban on birth control.

    October 30, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Stan

      Unfortunately your comment is invalid and fails, becuase the church supports abstinence, which is 100% effective.

      October 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Kyle

      Stan, you don't know much about the catholic religion do you? They preach that they are supposed to be "fruitful and multiply".

      October 30, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • jebb

      Stan

      Unfortunately your comment is invalid and fails, becuase the church supports abstinence, which is 100% effective.

      lmfao!
      and we can all see how well that has worked out,eh?!
      if only the pope and army of mental lunatics preached something that would actually be followed
      kill the pope and his minions!
      pay my airfare and i will hunt down the pope and maim torture and kill him
      pay my airfare and tell me which priest you want killed and i will do it!

      October 30, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  8. Samhain

    The Catholic Church committed genocide against millions of people, and yet they are still allowed to exist. They belong in the trash bin of history along with the Nazis.

    October 30, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Earl

      What are you smoking, Samhain?

      October 30, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Stan

      Samhain i'd like to be able to tell you there is still a light of the end of the tunnel you are stuck in that is your as shole, but i'd be lying.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • PastorFufu

      Samhain is right. The Church is guilty of a genocidal acts over the ages – crusades, witch-hunts, suppression of knowledge and free speech by using co-ercion and violence, race riots, attacks against women and children-even Hitler was a Christian and Bush likes to attack countries based on what his manic-depressive, attention-wh-0-re of a god tells him. If people believe in such leaders and deities how can they be free from violence? The church creates victims so that it can create the illusion that it's need and pretend to help people, while causing more harm...

      October 30, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  9. David in Cincinnati

    I think your statistics are interesting if factual, though in no way excuse the Catholic pedophiles nor the coverup.

    October 30, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  10. Bill

    "A Perspective on Clergy Se xual Abuse by Dr. Thomas Plante of Stanford University and Santa Clara University states that "approximately 4% of priests during the past half century (and mostly in the 1960s and 1970s) have had a se xual experience with a minor" which "is consistent with male clergy from other religious traditions and is significantly lower than the general adult male population which may double these numbers".[4][12] Additionally, according to Newsweek magazine, the figure in the Catholic Church is similar to that in the rest of the adult population.[13]"

    October 30, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Bill

      The point i'm obviously trying to make with my top comment there is that you can't generalize an entire group of people for the crimes committed by a small number of them, especially considering the good that group of people does in the world on a day to day basis, and the efforts their church has made to combating and preventing these crimes from ever happening again (try doing some research on that, idiots). You're jokes and verbal attacks against the religious, Catholic or othersie) only solidify the growing and unfortunate stereotype that atheists are insecure, intolerant, bigots.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Bill

      And that excerpt is from Wikipedia, with full references presented at the bottom of the article.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Robert

      Isn't Santa Clara a Catholic university?

      October 30, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • JohnK

      Actually, this article is even more full of it than even you realize. Even their numbers of the accused are wrong

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

      October 30, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • jebb

      the pope is a nazi lover
      he is also a pedophile
      the church sanctions child abuse
      pay for my airfare and hotel and i will hunt down the pope and kill him and his pedophiliac nazi loving hordes

      October 30, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Earl

      Jebb, forget your meds today?

      October 30, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • jebb

      so what is ur point?!
      that is still 4% too many!
      kill the pope!
      slaughter maim torture and kill all priests!now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      October 30, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      Um Bill, 4% did it, 20% actively covered up for them, 10% moved the priests to other jurisdictions, and another 50% knew of the activities but did nothing.

      But they sure make the other 16% look bad.

      October 30, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • Loyola Alum

      In regard to Dr. Thomas Plante’s support of the Catholic hierarchy, Dr. Plante is an example of the Catholic Church getting an “expert” to shield the Church from taking action to protect children. Fr. Thomas Smolich (now the top USA Jesuit) said that Dr. Plante had decided that Br. Charles Connor, an alleged lead abuser in the $7 million Jesuit settlement in the abuse of two low-IQ Jesuit dishwasher employees, was not a threat. This is from the deposition of Fr. Smolich in the $7 million dishwasher abuse case.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  11. Mr Chihuahua

    Give the pedos the Qaddafi treatment! Shove a stick up their butt and bust a cap in their a$$ lol!

    October 30, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  12. george in texas

    christianity, if taken seriously, turns a normal respectable individual into a criminal. the empirical data are too strong as to make it mathmatically true.

    October 30, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Guest

      George, something tells me your eyes are brown too.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • Stan

      George, what are you smoking?

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

      Nice case of bigotry here.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      Doubtful. More likely, the scoundrels gravitate toward the lifestyle that rewards such behavior.

      October 30, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  13. Samantha

    testing – Wikipedia. (I'm finding my posts not being deleted and i'm trying to figure out what words are causing the censorship.)

    October 30, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Helpful Hints

      Samantha,

      Bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN automatic filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      ---
      ar-se.....as in ar-senic.
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, etc.
      co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, drift-wood, etc.
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      nip-ple
      o-rgy….as in po-rgy, zo-rgy, etc.
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      p-orn… as in p-ornography
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      que-er
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
      sl-ut
      sn-atch
      sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      sp-oon
      strip-per
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
      wt-f....also!!!!!!!

      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.

      October 30, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  14. Tom

    I'm sure calderon will help us he ismsuch a friend to America.

    October 30, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  15. PastorFufu

    Regular caning combined with pastoral love (love by a pastor on a pasture) has the potential to straighten the worst amongst us and maketh a better society. Now who dare question such a good Christian upbringing?? 😉

    October 30, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  16. prose53

    It's about time the Pope got involved. There has been too much cover-up for too long. I an a friend and classmate of one of the abuse survivors (Google Steve Stolar and Father McGarvey in Millville, NJ-and I am not betraying any confidences by printing this). These predators need to be punished, and sent to prison. Hiding behind the cloak of the Blessed Mother and Jesus is blasphemy. If these priests were child-care workers, or ordinary parents, like you and I, they would be in jail. PUT THEM THERE!!!!!! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!!!!!!!!

    October 30, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • JohnK

      Hey, moron, the pope has already gotten involved. He was even involved BEFORE he was the Pope.

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

      October 30, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      The pope actually allowed pedo priests to move to other congregations. Is that what you meant?

      October 30, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  17. ammo45

    Every weekend my mother invited atleast two priests over to our house and they %100 of the time got filthy drunk but luckily I was never accosted by these men. Although I did grow up to be an alcoholic I never blamed it on the catholic church.

    October 30, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Bill

      And I have a pet dinosaur in my back yard.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  18. Cruzader

    The corrupted organization Legionaries of Christ , founded by the pederast Marcial Maciel, who was "friend" of his protector John Paul II, was sponsored and supported by the rich in Mexico. Prominently by the world's richest man, Carlos Slim and Jean Azcarraga, owner of Televisa, producers of trashy TV. It is impossible to clean up this mess with that kind of vicious guardians.

    October 30, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  19. Robert

    Pedophelia is probably a problem in all denominations. The Catholic church as a whole should not be condemned because of the actions of some of their priests.

    Seven years ago a Catholic hospital provided medical care and comfort to my wife suffering from terminal cancer. The total cost of her care was $500,000 and they never even sent me a bill for any of it. I'm not Catholic myself but am grateful for all that was done for me and for all that they do for others that are in need.

    Robert

    October 30, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • grumpy

      "The Catholic church as a whole should not be condemned because of the actions of some of their priests."... yes, they should, if they actively or passively cover it up, like they've been doing. They should be burned at the stake, like the witches they used to burn.

      October 30, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  20. NotABibleThumper

    Pastor molest you??? Don't worry! It's all part of your god's plan for you. Trust in it.

    October 30, 2011 at 8:14 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.