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by Diego Cevallos

Mexican Catholic Church Lashes Out at Sex Abuse Victim

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- The Roman Catholic Church in Mexico celebrated a legal ruling that dismissed a case against Cardinal Norberto Rivera in which he was accused of protecting an alleged pedophile priest, while the press published Church guidelines in which the clergy are asked to sign a letter releasing the archdiocese of responsibility in case of charges of sex abuse.

"The charges against Monsignor Rivera were false, as has been demonstrated," Catholic priest Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the archdiocese of Mexico City, told IPS.

He was referring to a verdict handed down by a judge in Los Angeles, who ruled Tuesday that he had no jurisdiction to try Rivera, who was accused of conspiring to transfer a priest accused of molesting boys to that U.S. city.

But "Valdemar is lying, because no one declared that Rivera was innocent," said Eric Barragan, Mexico and Latin America director for the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which sponsored the case against Rivera. "What happened is that the judge argued that he does not have jurisdiction," he commented to IPS.

"They should stop being deceitful and should know that the battle isn't over," said the activist, after announcing that the verdict would be appealed in the U.S. courts.

Father Valdemar responded that the Los Angeles court had closely studied the case and had found no evidence that Rivera had taken part in an "international conspiracy in favor of pedophilia."

But "the accusing party can invent things and appeal; they are within their rights to do so. What we know is that their chances of winning are almost null," he said.

After a year-long review of the evidence, which included questioning Rivera -- Mexico's highest-ranking Catholic -- in the Mexican capital, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that there was no evidence to show that the cardinal committed a crime in the United States, and that therefore he could not be held accountable in a U.S. court.

The civil lawsuit against Rivera and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony was filed in the L.A. Superior Court by a Mexican man, Joaquin Aguilar, who accused the two cardinals of protecting a pedophile priest.

The charges were negligence, retention of evidence, and conspiracy to protect Mexican priest Nicolas Aguilar (no relation), who allegedly sexually abused Joaquin, now 26, when he was a boy, as well as around 60 other boys.

Nicolas Aguilar served as a parish priest in the central Mexican city of Puebla in the 1980s, under then bishop Rivera, who transferred him to Los Angeles, where he served under Mahony for less than a year before fleeing to Mexico in 1988. The priest faces 19 counts of child molestation in southern California, as well as charges in Mexico, where he remains a fugitive from justice.

"We might not have been successful now. But we'll go to another judge, and we'll take the case to the international courts if necessary," said Barragan. "But they should know that the battle is not lost, and that we will not flag in our efforts."

"There was an international conspiracy between Rivera and Mahony to conceal a pedophile priest, which allowed him to continue to commit crimes. And we have evidence to prove that," he added.

However, that evidence was discounted by the L.A. court and there is no certainty that another court would reach a different conclusion.

Joaquin Aguilar declared that he is sure that he will one day see Rivera "sitting in a courtroom; they should not claim victory."

The Catholic Church in Mexico maintains that the alleged pedophile priest was never protected, and accuses SNAP of seeking economic gain and visibility.

The verdict handed down in Los Angeles coincided with the publication in the Mexican press of a document that the archdiocese distributed to its priests, titled "guidelines in relation to inappropriate behavior, principally with minors, that could be engaged in by the clergy."

But Valdemar said the document is five years old and is not related in any way to Rivera's case.

The guidelines say that in the face of "reasonable suspicion" that a member of the clergy had committed sexual abuse, "precautionary measures, whether a transfer or suspension, will be taken" -- a strategy that critics of the Church see as a way of evading justice and even exposing other churchgoers to abuse.

The guidelines urge priests to avoid immoral conduct and actions that could be construed as harmful to minors.

"The clergy should avoid imprudent conduct like inopportune or awkward hugs, and touching or caresses that are out of place or unwanted. Priests should not bring minors into their rooms or spend their days off with them," the document says.

It also orders priests to sign a letter in which they release the archdiocese of Mexico City of any civil, criminal or financial responsibility for their moral conduct.

"The guidelines may have shortcomings and perhaps we could improve on them, but their only aim is to make it clear that if a priest commits a crime, he must assume personal responsibility and be held accountable. They do not in any sense seek to protect the guilty," said Valdemar.

In July, the archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay the landmark sum of $660 million in damages to 500 victims of molestation by priests.

A total of 10,667 people alleged abuse by 4,392 priests in the United States between 1950 and 2002, and compensation-related costs for the Catholic Church amounted to 573 million dollars, according to a 2004 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, "The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States."

In Mexico, which has the second largest number of Catholics in the world after Brazil, no one knows for certain how many priests have been accused of child abuse, but the Church claims there have only been a few isolated cases, and has faced few legal problems in relation to such charges.

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Albion Monitor   October 17, 2007   (

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