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Church Accused of Trafficking in Abuse

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Catholic bishops "facilitated the sexual molestation of children by engaging in the international trafficking of known child molesting priests," alleged victims of clerical abuse claim in court.

The latest lawsuit alleging a decades-long conspiracy to facilitate and cover up priests' sexual abuse of children was filed Tuesday in Superior Court, as the Catholic Church's conclave met to elect the new pope, who was chosen on Wednesday.

The 18-page complaint names names, including former Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, Bishop Thomas Curry, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but the only defendants are Defendant Does 1 through 1,000, church officials and dioceses that allegedly participated in the shuffling of predatory priests from parish to parish, including across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The four Juan Doe plaintiffs claim they were sexually abused by a priest in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese stripped Cardinal Mahony, its former archbishop, of his public duties after it was revealed that he plotted to conceal child sexual abuse by priests, according to the Los Angeles Times.

According to the Superior Court complaint: "The Catholic bishops in the United States, Mexico and other Latin American countries have long facilitated the sexual molestation of children by engaging in the international trafficking of known child molesting priests. The bishops have done so to prevent the priests form being prosecuted and to avoid scandal. The bishops have subjected Catholic families and children in these communities to known pedophiles, counting on the devotion and reverence in the communities to keep any further abuse by the priests secret.

"Father Nicholas Aguilar-Rivera (hereafter 'Father Aguilar-Rivera'), a priest at San Sebastian Martyr church in the town of Cuacnopalan, Puebla, Mexico, sexually molested numerous children in 1986. When the abuse became known in the community, a group of parents physically confronted Father Aguilar-Rivera. Local police became aware of the incident. Father Aguilar-Rivera sought the assistance of his bishop, defendant Doe 6, then the bishop of defendant Doe 5, a Roman Catholic Diocese in Tehuacan, in Mexico. Defendant Doe 6 and defendant Doe 5, despite being aware that Father Aguilar-Rivera was accused of molesting numerous boys, facilitated the transfer of Father Aguilar-Rivera to Los Angeles and the defendant Doe 1 Archdiocese. Defendant Does 5 and 6 also counseled Father Aguilar-Rivera to have psychiatric help because of the incident. In January and March of 1987, using coded language used by the bishops to facilitate the international transfer of child molesting priests, defendant Doe 6 informed Cardinal Roger Mahony and the defendant Doe 1 Archdiocese that there were accusations of Father Aguilar-Rivera molesting children.

"Despite this knowledge and these warnings, Cardinal Mahony and defendant Doe 1 Archdiocese assigned Father Aguilar-Rivera as an associate pastor at defendant Doe 2, a Catholic parish in a predominantly immigrant Hispanic community known as Rose Hill, just east of downtown Los Angeles. Immediately after his arrival, Father Aguilar-Rivera began having altar boys and students from the parish school come to his rectory bedroom. This conduct was known by defendants and their employees at defendant Doe 2, including a parish secretary. This conduct was known by the defendants to be strongly suspicious of child sexual abuse."

Rather than investigate complaints against the priest and report him to law enforcement, the Archdiocese reassigned him to another parish several miles away, the complaint states. At the new parish, Aguilar-Rivera continued to pull children out of classes and bring them to his bedroom. He also kept in touch with children from his former parish and their families, according to the complaint.


"In January of 1988, several children form defendant Doe 2 parish complained to their parents of Father Aguilar-Rivera's abuse," the complaint states. "On Jan. 8, 1988, the parents reported these complaints to the parish school teacher, principal and priest pastor of defendant Doe 2. Instead of immediately contacting police, defendant Doe 1 Archdiocese was contacted. In the morning of Jan. 9, 1988, Bishop Thomas Curry, who was then the Vicar for Clergy of defendant Doe 1, instead of contacting police, or even waiting for police to be contacted, personally met with Father Aguilar-Rivera in his rectory bedroom at St. Agatha Catholic parish. Curry actively aided and abetted Father Aguilar-Rivera's flight from justice by informing Father Aguilar-Rivera of the complaints against him, telling him police would be in contact, telling him he would be in a lot of trouble and encouraging Father Aguilar-Rivera to leave Los Angeles. Father Aguilar-Rivera informed Curry he would leave Los Angeles and go to Mexico that day. By the end of the day, Father Aguilar-Rivera had fled California and was in Mexico. Two days later, the principal of defendant Doe 2's school, a nun, contacted law enforcement.

"When the Los Angeles Police Department began investigating Father Aguilar-Rivera and the complaints, defendant Does 1-4 obstructed the investigation by refusing to provide to police the names of altar boys at Defendant Does 2-4. Eventually, without assistance from the defendants, police interviewed not less than 26 children who had been abused by Father Aguilar-Rivera during his 9 month stay in Los Angeles."

After he returned to Mexico, Father Aguilar-Rivera was allowed to continue working at several parishes, where he sexually molested more children, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs say the priest was finally defrocked in Mexico in the summer of 2009.

"Father Aguilar-Rivera used his position of trust and authority to manipulate plaintiff, who was between 12 and 13," one Juan Doe claims. "Father Aguilar-Rivera had plaintiff and plaintiff's family visit defendant Doe 3 for masses officiated by Father Aguilar-Rivera. At these masses Father Aguilar-Rivera had plaintiff serve Mass as an altar boy. Starting on or after June of 1987, Father Aguilar-Rivera repeatedly sexually molested plaintiff in the sacristy of defendant Doe 3 before and/or after masses. Plaintiff was both terrified of Father Aguilar-Rivera's conduct and frozen because of his obedience to and reverence of Father Aguilar-Rivera."

One plaintiff, who says he has been on active military duty since he turned 18, claims he was 7 at the time of the abuse. The other alleged victims were 9, 12 and 11.

The plaintiffs, who say they were sexually molested in 1987, claim they suppressed memories of the sexual abuse and started abusing drugs and alcohol as young adults to cope with the trauma.

They claim the defendants helped Father Aguilar-Rivera flee form justice, refused to cooperate with investigators, lied to law enforcement and the press, and tried to pacify victims to duck legal action.

"The defendants, as with other Roman Catholic institutions, have systematically for many years thwarted investigations of pedophile priests, while simultaneously attempting to pacify their victims and families through use of church loyalty," the complaint states. "This has routinely included steering victims of abuse and their families to counselors loyal to the church, while at the same time failing to inform those victims and their families that they have legal rights and that there are statutes of limitations that could preclude later bringing an action. When such victims unknowingly wait until their limitations have expired, the defendants and other Roman Catholic entities have then argued for dismissal of the victims' case because statutes of limitation have expired.

"The international trafficking of known child molesting priests between California and Latin America has been engaged in by bishops for many years. Father Nicholas Aguilar-Rivera is one of a long string of known pedophile priests that bishops in Los Angeles and California have knowingly accepted from Latin America or sent to Latin America. Such other priests include Father Willebaldo Castro, Father Fernando Lopez, Father Gustavo Benson, Father Eleuterio Ramos, Father Jose Chavarin, Father Gerardo Beltran, Father Xavier Ochoa, Father Luis Jaramillo and many others."

The victims claim the defendants knew or should have known of Father Aguilar-Rivera's "dangerous and exploitive propensities," but gave him access to children anyway.

They add: "Father Nicholas Aguilar-Rivera was able, by virtue of his unique authority and position as a Roman Catholic priest, to identify vulnerable victims and their families upon which he could perform such sexual abuse; to manipulate his authority to procure compliance with his sexual demands from his victims; to induce the victims to continue to allow the abuse; and to coerce them not to report it to any other persons or authorities. As a priest, Nicholas Aguilar-Rivera had unique access to a position of authority within Roman Catholic families like plaintiffs'. Such access, authority and reverence was known to the defendants and encouraged by them."

The plaintiffs claim the defendants' failure to discipline and report Aguilar-Rivera is consistent with their pattern of protecting offending clerics from prosecution and keeping a lid on the church's sexual abuse scandal, at the expense of victims.

They seek an injunction and damages for negligence, negligent supervision, hiring and retention, breach of fiduciary duty, failure to warn, and sexual battery.

They are represented by Anthony De Marco of Pasadena.

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