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Sunday, July 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Priest Can Be Sued in L.A. for Molestation in Mexico

(CN) - A Mexican man who claims a Catholic priest raped him when he was 12 can pursue claims that the Catholic Church conspired to cover up the crimes, a Los Angeles federal judge ruled.

Filing anonymously as Juan Doe, the alleged victim accused the Rev. Nicolas Aguilar Rivera of abusing him in the Diocese of Tehuacan, Mexico, in 1997. His suit also names the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, the Diocese of Tehucana, Cardinal Roger Mahony and Cardinal Norberto Rivera as defendants for their roles in the alleged conspiracy.

Amid reports that Aguilar was molesting children in his parish, Doe says the Catholic Church simply transferred Aguilar between various churches in Mexico and Los Angeles to conceal his abuses.

Cardinal Rivera first transferred Aguilar to California in 1987, Doe claims. When sex-abuse claims against Aguilar came to light in Los Angeles, Cardinal Mahony let Rivera flee back to Mexico, where he continued to work as a priest.

According to a Los Angeles Police Department investigation quoted in the ruling, and in other lawsuits filed against Aguilar, 26 of the priest's victims came forward from L.A. parishes where Aguilar spent just nine months. A Mexican court found Rivera guilty in 2003 of sexual abuse and sentenced him to one year in prison.

The dioceses moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, but U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton Tucker of California's central district rejected the motion in a Feb. 25 order. The judge justified her findings with a centuries-old law known as the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows the victims of human rights abuses committed abroad to find justice in U.S. federal courts.

"Looking specifically at plaintiff's allegations against Father Aguilar, federal courts have recognized rape and sexual abuse as an actionable offense under the Alien Tort Statute as a crime against humanity," the judge said. "The prevailing view in the case law is that cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment generally constitutes an actionable international law norm under the Alien Tort Statute, and is treated similarly to torture."

The defendants argued that the Alien Tort Claims Act barred the victim's claims under the statute of limitations.

But Tucker said that state law allowed victims of sexual abuse to delay a claim until the age of 26.

"Plaintiff turned eighteen in 2003," Tucker wrote. "Plaintiff filed his complaint in 2010. Under either the application of equitable tolling to the Alien Tort Statute or California's statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse, plaintiff's claim is timely and not barred by the statute of limitations."

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