Records detail cardinal's failings in abuse scandal
Cardinal Roger Mahony will be deposed Saturday, then head to Rome to vote on next pope.
February 22nd, 2013
07:15 PM ET

Records detail cardinal's failings in abuse scandal

By Wayne Drash, CNN

(CNN) – Told by two families that a visiting priest was suspected of molesting their children in 1988, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles did not immediately notify police. Instead, Cardinal Roger Mahony’s right-hand man alerted the priest – a heads-up that allowed him to flee the country for Mexico.

He remained in the priesthood there for another 21 years, allegedly continuing to molest. He has denied the accusations and remains a fugitive.

Newly released church documents show the behind-the-scenes machinations of top officials within the Los Angeles archdiocese making decisions on how to deal with pedophile priests, hindering police investigations and saying, in private, something completely different than what they said in public.

Mahony, one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church in America at the time, received constant updates on molesting priests and sometimes gave orders on how to deal with cases, including once telling subordinates to deny a police request for a list of altar boys. In at least one case, minute details like retirement benefits were discussed for an admitted molester.

On Saturday, Mahony faced a deposition, answering questions on his handling of the abuse scandal for the first time since the documents' release.

He will journey next to Rome to join the conclave to decide the next pope - a decision that has stirred controversy among advocates of abuse victims and many Catholics.

Anthony De Marco, an attorney who has spent decades representing abuse victims, said the newly released documents surprised even him, because they show “how frequently there was correspondence back and forth between Cardinal Mahony and his top assistants and others after a priest was accused.”

"We know a lot more about his conduct and his words now than we ever have, and I believe that's going to make for a much more thorough deposition," said De Marco, ahead of the deposition he was scheduled to lead.

The archdiocese had fought for years against the documents' being made public. But a judge ordered the release of the material – more than 12,000 pages that detail the extent of sexual abuse within the archdiocese dating back to the 1930s.

“I find these files to be brutal and painful reading,” Archbishop Jose Gomez said in rebuking Mahony, his predecessor.

Still, Gomez supports Mahony on his journey to Rome, where he will join the papal conclave in the Sistine Chapel to choose the next pope. In a letter to priests within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Gomez asked them “to pray for Cardinal Mahony as he fulfills this sacred duty as Cardinal Elector.”

“I am confident that Cardinal Mahony’s accomplishments and experience in the areas of immigration, social justice, sacred liturgy, and the role of the laity in the Church will serve the College of Cardinals well,” Gomez said.

‘The children are not traumatized’

The case of the Rev. Nicolas Aguilar-Rivera is a microcosm of the larger abuse crisis within the church. It will be at the heart of the deposition.

At a time when the archdiocese was widening its base within the ever-growing Latino community in Southern California, Aguilar-Rivera came to the United States from Mexico, in March 1987. Aguilar-Rivera’s bishop in Mexico had asked the Los Angeles archdiocese to take him in.

The archdiocese welcomed him and found a spot for him in two parishes where parents trusted him with their children, unsupervised.

“He even used his status as a newcomer, his need to learn English, as his ruse for getting children alone," said Terry McKiernan, founder of the church watchdog group BishopAccountability.org. "It’s one of the most extreme combinations of devout Catholic people very open to a priest, very respectful of him, and the callousness and carelessness of hierarchy on both sides of the border about the dangers that this priest posed."

McKiernan added, “This is a man who was a total predator, whose entire life and being seemed to be focused on abusing children.”

Once in the United States, Aguilar-Rivera was first sent to work at Our Lady of Guadalupe, a church with a largely Mexican-American population in East Los Angeles. The bishop for that area, Juan Arzube, Mahony’s vicar general for the San Gabriel Region, had once been accused of molestation and often lobbied on behalf of molesting priests, arguing they deserved to be forgiven, the documents show.

Arzube denied molesting any children himself, but admitted under deposition to being alone with altar boys on many occasions in his rectory apartment. His name was part of a massive civil lawsuit settled with accusers in 2007.

Arzube’s cavalier attitude toward sexual abuse is summed up in a 1980 document in which he lobbied for reinstatement of a priest who had been stripped of his duties, for a second time, because he molested altar boys. “How many priests are there completely guiltless over a period of 10 years?” said Arzube, who died on Christmas Day in 2007 at age 89.

The first inkling of Aguilar-Rivera’s alleged ­actions in America came on Friday January 8, 1988, when two families – “all trustworthy people” – informed their pastor that they believed their children had been molested. The priest, in turn, told Thomas Curry, the vicar of clergy and Mahony’s second in command.

One incident “happened at Christmas when Father visited the other family,” Curry told Mahony in a letter dated January 10, 1988. “There was a good deal of drinking, and the family asked him to stay. He slept in the room with the children and is supposed to have gotten into bed with one of the boys that night.”

The principal of the boys’ school, Curry noted, had been informed of the accusations and “will be obliged to report it to police.”

But the church didn’t respond by first alerting police. Instead, Curry met with Aguilar-Rivera at the church the day after the allegations were made, a Saturday morning, and informed him that a police investigation would be launched.

“I offered to find a place for him to live until he could make other arrangements, but he volunteered that he would stay with his sister here and leave for Mexico on Monday or Tuesday of this week,” Curry wrote Mahony.

“… He asked that his bishop not be told, and I said that would not be possible. I told him the charges as I knew them, although I did not give the names of the families. He denied all, although he admitted that there was a good deal of drinking at Christmas. I told him that it was likely the accusations would be reported to the police and that he was in a good deal of danger.”

The documents show no suggestion on Curry’s or Mahony’s part that Aguilar-Rivera stay in the United States, cooperate with authorities and face the allegations.

Armed with the information, Aguilar-Rivera skipped town before police were notified on Monday, apparently by the school principal. That day, a detective asked an official within the archdiocese if Aguilar-Rivera intended to flee to Mexico.

“I said I was not sure,” said the official, who is not named in the documents. “I also said that Nicolas knew that it would probably be reported to the police, and that I had explained that some people were bound to report.”

Law enforcement took the allegations seriously and launched an investigation, even accusing the church of not fully cooperating with its efforts – an accusation that would eventually go public in a story in the Los Angeles Times.

One document says that a boy’s relative “had heard” that cops had accused church officials of a cover-up. “The family does not want any trouble,” said the memo dated January 21, 1988. “They want [Aguilar-Rivera] to receive help and that he not be able to do this again.”

The memo added, “The children are not traumatized.”

Five days later, police pushed for a list of altar boys at St. Agatha’s, the second parish where Aguilar-Rivera worked. This request sent archdiocese officials into a frenzy.

Curry wrote Mahony that he believed the church should not cooperate. “We have no evidence that Father Aguilar-Rivera was involved with altar boys as such,” Curry wrote on January 26, 1988. “All the boys involved were members of families he was friendly with in Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the alleged abuse took place while he was visiting these families or while they were visiting him.”

The pastor at St. Agatha, Curry continued, had no knowledge of abuse on his premises and “his concern is that if the police come and interview the boys, the matter will spread around the parish. The parish there is a black-Hispanic one, and he finds his situation as an Anglo pastor a very delicate one.”

“The whole issue of our records is a very sensitive one, and I am reluctant to give any list to the police,” Curry concluded. “We are being friendly but firm.”

At the bottom of the typed letter is a handwritten message from Mahony. “We cannot give such a list for no cause whatsoever,” he scrawled on the page, initializing it with “RMM.”

He underlined “cannot” for extra emphasis.

None of the archdiocese officials were ever charged with obstruction of justice.

Police eventually got the altar boy list, with no help from the archdiocese. Investigators learned the extent of Aguilar-Rivera’s alleged crimes by interviewing boys ranging in age from about 9 to 13.

In all, police said, 26 boys were molested in just nine months, many of them repeatedly. Aguilar-Rivera would eventually be charged in a felony complaint relating to 10 boys, with 19 counts of committing a lewd act with a child.

A Los Angeles Times reporter asked the archdiocese for comment at the time; its public statement stands in direct contrast to what the newly released documents reveal. “He was asked to stay in the country to face the accusations against him, but he chose to leave,” said Joseph Battaglia, the spokesman for the archdiocese.

In the article, police said the church was being less than forthcoming with investigators; a father of two of the alleged victims said simply, “The church shouldn’t be telling lies.”

With the allegations now in the open, the tone of archdiocese officials shifted. Three days later, Curry wrote Aguilar-Rivera’s bishop in Mexico and included a copy of the Los Angeles Times’ story.

“May I request that if you know of the whereabouts of Father Aguilar-Rivera,” Curry said, “you urge him most strongly to return here to answer the allegations that have been made against him.”

While on the run, Aguilar-Rivera even called the home of one of the boys he allegedly molested.

“Don’t you know everybody is looking for you?” the mother said, according to a March 11, 1988, memo.

“For what?” Aguilar-Rivera responded.

Aguilar-Rivera would remain in the priesthood in Mexico - for another 21 years. He would be dogged of more molestation allegations while there.

A civil suit filed in the United States in 2010 by a Mexican citizen alleged Aguilar-Rivera raped him when he was a 12-year-old altar boy in Mexico. The suit alleges Mahony and a Mexican cardinal conspired to hide Aguilar-Rivera between the two countries with full knowledge of his alleged pedophilia, putting an untold number of children at risk. Mahony has denied the allegations.

Aguilar-Rivera was convicted in Mexico in 2003 of a misdemeanor sex abuse charge, but was allowed to walk free while the case was under appeal, according to the Dallas Morning News.

He remains on Mexico’s federal prosecutor’s Most Want List wanted on charges of rape and indecent assault.

Aguilar-Rivera was finally stripped of his duties in 2009 by the Vatican, which approved his removal from “clerical state, a priest who has been accused of the sexual abuse of minors in Mexico and the United States,” the Catholic News Agency reported on July 31, 2009.

Attorney De Marco said it’s disgusting church authorities did nothing to stop him.

“He was able to walk around with the authority of the collar in a country where that authority carries more significance than it does here,” De Marco said. “How could anyone ever justify that 21-year delay? This man molested 26 children in nine months in the United States. How many more were there over 21 years?”

Aguilar-Rivera, now 71, is believed to be alive, a free man in Mexico.

Mahony prays for humiliation

Mahony, who turns 77 next week, was appointed archbishop of Los Angeles by Pope John Paul II in 1985, overseeing the archdiocese until 2011 when he retired. In 1991, he became a cardinal, the highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the pope.

McKiernan, who launched BishopAccountability.org in 2003 to keep track of the widespread church abuse, said the recently released documents show the scope and magnitude of Mahony’s and Curry’s efforts in “intentionally evading the authorities.”

“We didn’t have evidence of that before. It’s actually more stark,” he said. “You can tell from these documents Mahony was trying to keep abused priests away from police. ­… The document record is a disgraceful one.”

Curry stepped down earlier this month as the regional bishop of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and “publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as vicar for clergy,” archbishop Gomez said in announcing the resignation.

Mahony has said he has long acknowledged mistakes in the 1980s and that he improved the reporting mechanisms of priestly abuse in the years that followed.

He has recently taken to his personal blog, scribing an array of posts about praying for humiliation.

“… I am for the first time realizing that I should be praying for the very things from which I cringe, the disgrace I abhor, the fool that I seem,” he blogged on February 15.

In a post this week, he asked followers for “your prayers and your encouragements in my own life to handle all of my mistakes, omissions, and commissions as God asks, and as Jesus and Mary lived out: to take in what swirls around me, to hold it, to carry it, to transform it and to give it back as grace, blessing and gift.”

De Marco, the attorney conducting the deposition, said Mahony should feel one emotion far greater than humiliation: shame.

Amid calls for Mahony to not travel to Rome, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles remains steadfast in its support of his trip, saying canon law dictates that he attend.

Catholics United, a liberal-leaning group that pushes for social justice within the church, and SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) said they delivered a petition with close to 10,000 signatures to Saint Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood on Saturday, asking for Mahony not to attend the conclave.

"His participation in the conclave would only bring clouds of shame at a time that should bring springs of hope. Cardinal Mahony, please, stay home," said Chris Pumpelly, Catholics United's communications director.

There is no indication he will.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: California • Catholic Church • Mexico • Pope • Pope Benedict XVI • Vatican

soundoff (459 Responses)
  1. Bootyfunk

    Catholic Church = NAMBLA

    February 23, 2013 at 4:16 am |
    • sam stone

      catholic priest gets out of prison, looks around and says "i feel like a young man"

      February 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  2. David Sutton

    Both Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry have stated publicly they made serious mistakes.. They have apologized and have
    tried to make amends. Whether legal action can be taken against them is up to the judicial process–of which most are not expert. The victims of abuse must go on with their lives. As well as the Bishops. The matter is unfolding in public opinion.
    To those who will not listen to their apology–well no further action is necessary–they are free to continue their lives in the present without being forever relegated tot he past. That is why Cardinal Mahony must go to the conclave–as well as his

    February 23, 2013 at 3:15 am |
    • realbuckyball

      Wrong. He should be tried, in court, and put in prison where he belongs for child-endangerment, and squandering millions of dollars of church assets by his mis-management, and told NOT to show up in Rome. The very idea he is in Rome is a scandal, and the proof the National Conference of Pedophile Protectors, (Ca bishops), STILL don't get it. But it doesn't matter. The Roman Church in advanced countries is in decline, and on the way out. In the long sweep of human history, science has replaced religion.

      February 23, 2013 at 3:22 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      i'll remember that next time someone molests your children and his superior tries to cover it up. as long as they apologize, it's okay!

      February 23, 2013 at 3:39 am |
    • Science

      Crimes against children are not mistakes David, They are criminals.

      Do not pass go All involved should go directly to jail ! Plus

      make statement to the world that the TALKING SNAKE is also a crime against humanity !

      February 23, 2013 at 5:02 am |
    • Science

      To David Spread the word please.........thanks

      Rating MA 17 info below

      With Robots, Humans Face 'New Society'

      Feb. 22, 2013 — Humanity came one step closer in January to being able to replicate itself, thanks to the EU's approval of funding for the Human Brain Project


      No god(s) required


      February 23, 2013 at 5:55 am |
    • JJ

      You protectors of the thousands of child rapists that rule your pedophile infested cult disgust me beyond description. As long as the rapist of your child apologizes afterwards then all is forgiven? You are repugnant.

      February 23, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • ELH

      You are so wrong. Based on your notion, all any criminal needs do is apologize and all will be forgiven? Rubbish.

      February 23, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  3. realbuckyball

    Roger Mahoney looks like Grumpy Cat.
    Maybe he needs his kitty litter changed.

    February 23, 2013 at 3:05 am |
  4. End Reigion

    Aguilar-Rivera is a great example of "getting away with it". He's had a lifetime full of porking kids, all with the church's blessing. Crime does pay, as long as it is done within the church, who will protect you as you prey on the world. I guess this priest is proof that "preyer" does work!

    February 23, 2013 at 2:42 am |
  5. Mass Debater

    I just honestly wish I could say I was surprised.

    February 23, 2013 at 2:26 am |
  6. fernace

    Mahoney belongs in prison, not a Catholic enclave to choose the next pope! This is so disgusting there are no words to describe it!!

    February 23, 2013 at 2:04 am |
    • David Sutton

      If you feel so strongly about putting Cardinal Mahony in prison than why not make a citizens arrest?

      March 3, 2013 at 3:25 am |
  7. Info

    An examination of the 300 Prophecies of Jesus from the Jewish Scriptures.

    http://www. amazon. com/300-Times-0-ebook/dp/B00BDFMLAI

    300 Times 0 is 0

    February 22, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      The thing is, "prophesy" is all a bunch of crap. A "prophet" in Hebrew culture was a "mouthpiece" to speak TO THE PEOPLE OF THEIR OWN DAY, not someone to tell the future. In fact fortune-telling, and sooth-saying were forbidden, (abominations, in Leviticus). Around the turn of the millenium, (the year "0" CE), with the rise of Jewish Apocalypticism, (especially in the Essene group, as senn in the Dead Sea Scrolls), the fad called "pesher" or looking for "pesherim", (hidden meanings) in texts arose VERY LATE in Jewish culture, and in Midrash, (the study of sacred texts). So ALL of the "Madame Zelda and her crystal ball", "foretelling" has NOTHING AT ALL to do with the texts, and was all cooked up later, to justify later crap. It's simply all ignorance of the culture of the Ancient Near East, Judaism, and the context of the early Christian cults.

      February 23, 2013 at 3:01 am |
  8. Douglas

    Too weak to obey the rules of celibacy.
    Children then suffer at the hands of these satanic gay priests.
    The evil of gay coitus has destroyed the lives of many young boys who
    have a tough time coming to grips with the abuse they have endured.
    The screams of the boys you abused behind closed doors will echo in your brain forever.
    Cardinal Mahoney...burn in h-e-l-l!

    February 22, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Douglas, pedophilia is evil. Sex acts between normal gay people in normal relationships are not evil.

      February 22, 2013 at 10:56 pm |
    • Doobs

      Again with the gay coitus. What a dolt.

      February 22, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
    • ..

      Uh, asshole Douglas, the rape of CHILDREN of BOTH genders isn’t cause by celibacy, it’s caused by pedophilia. How DARE you dismiss all of the little GIRLS who have been raped by PEDOPHILE priests!
      I find it ludicrous that you would espouse celibacy is that were really the cause, but then you’re so ignorant you do not know the difference between a gay person and a pedophile, and refuse to learn.

      Shove your gay coitus up your ass. Pun intended, you sick old fuck.

      February 22, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
    • Henry Jones Jr.

      Douglas must get a boner every time he says coitus. He's such a Roy Cohn wannabee.

      Douglas, buy a nice set of leather chaps, grow a big handlebar moustache, move to Castro Street and come out of your closet already!

      February 23, 2013 at 2:50 am |
    • realbuckyball

      ho-mophobes, (such as Dougy) are latent gays .. according to the National Insti'tute of Health study :

      February 23, 2013 at 3:04 am |
    • Hey Doogie

      Your posts indicate you are severely repressed. Why not go out and get laid, just make sure he is over 18.

      February 23, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • Hey Dougie 2

      Good one.

      February 23, 2013 at 8:29 am |
  9. M.A.D.

    These protected salamanders of Jesus should be p!ssing in paints for their deeds, not sitting with heads up. Disgusting creatures.

    February 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
  10. Sara Howells


    February 22, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  11. Chad

    Atheist Dawkins recalls that he was not traumatized by his gentle abuser.

    February 22, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
    • Akira

      Dawkins was wrong for minimalizing child rape, atheist or not.
      You're wrong for minimizing child rape, Christian or not.
      Reprehensible. You have just, in my estimation, lowered yourself to the same level as Dawkins. Congratulations.

      February 22, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • Christian Chad

      Sounds like it was good for you also.

      February 23, 2013 at 7:50 am |
    • Hey Dougie 2

      Feel good Chad?

      February 23, 2013 at 8:51 am |
  12. sixpointnineme

    Reblogged this on sixpointnineme and commented:
    What did the current pope and his predecessor know?
    With all aidding and abetting, looks like a nice crime syndicate to me.

    February 22, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
  13. M.A.D.


    February 22, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
  14. CGAW

    It sucks when a atheist penetrates the church and then starts looking elsewhere to penetrate

    February 22, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • ..

      Pedophile apologist.

      February 22, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • Doobs

      Nice try, troll.

      February 22, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  15. End Religion

    I think I'm going to go kick some hornet nests. You know, hang around a religious site and rile them up to come post "testimony" here. This place has pretty much emptied out of religious folks except for the 2-3 super crazy ones. Wish me luck!

    February 22, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  16. Bootyfunk

    is there a more disgusting organization than the Catholic church? over and over they protect the molester over the child that was abused. if they were decent human being in any way, they would have instead HELPED the police prosecute these monsters to the fullest extent of the law - but instead they ship them to another parish to molest more children. i've read some of these doc.uments. it seems surreal that someone could be so callous. is there a worse crime than stealing the innocence of children through s.exual abuse? not only should Mahoney not to to Rome - he should be under arrest for impeding police investigations. he should be in prison along with all his molester priest buddies.

    February 22, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
  17. Alien Orifice

    This is the fault of a nefarious atheist conspiracy and not the Catholic church.

    February 22, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • ..

      Douglas has something to shove up your alien orifice.

      February 22, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
  18. End Religion

    Rats, the pope is only mentioned 4 times in this article. I was hoping we'd have more comprehensive coverage of the pope, perhaps from all angles. For instance I'd like to learn all about the Pope's Twitter account, how he opened it, used it then planned to shut it down. Some great historic info like that, some real substantive articles about the Pope's social media usage, would be a nice change of pace around here.

    February 22, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  19. Zombie on a Stick

    I'm sure we'll be hearing people say this is somehow the fault of a nefarious atheist conspiracy and not the Catholic church.

    February 22, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
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    February 22, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • Akira

      My favorite chef is wearing a new hat.

      February 22, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • End Religion

      Not AB...

      February 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
    • Akira

      Oh, well. Pizza sounds fanstastic, anyway.

      February 22, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
    • End Reigion


      February 23, 2013 at 2:08 am |
    • bobk52

      Yummy, me loves peteza!

      February 23, 2013 at 5:21 am |
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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.