A California judge ruled Tuesday that the Mexican cardinal who leads the world's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese can't be sued in the United States on allegations that he covered up the actions of a pedophile priest.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said his court lacked jurisdiction to hear a civil suit brought against Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City by a Mexican-born man who says he was molested by a priest that Rivera once oversaw. Berle said the case should be heard in Mexico.
The accuser, Joaquin Aguilar Mendez, alleged that Rivera and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony conspired to cover up the actions of the pedophile priest in the late 1980s, and that their actions allowed him to remain a practicing priest in Mexico and abuse Aguilar in 1994.
The priest, the Rev. Nicolas Aguilar, transferred to Los Angeles from Mexico, then returned to Mexico after he was charged in Los Angeles with 19 counts of child sexual abuse.
"It is evident this (conspiracy) didn't exist," said Bernardo Fernandez del Castillo Q., an attorney for Rivera, in a telephone interview after the decision. The attorney said he'd spoken with Rivera after the ruling and that the cardinal was grateful for the outcome.
"Justice was done," Fernandez said.
The case drew international attention because it featured two of the church's most powerful clergymen pointing fingers of blame at each other over sex abuse allegations that have roiled the Roman Catholic Church. Rivera is believed to have been one of the five finalists to succeed the late Pope John Paul II, and he remains a potential successor to Pope Benedict XVI.
In recent years, the U.S. church has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle sex-abuse complaints in California, Oregon, Kentucky, Massachusetts and elsewhere.
Depositions given by both cardinals provided a rare inside look at how the church dealt with troubled priests.
In his deposition, Rivera said he used secret code language to warn Mahony in an introductory letter that Aguilar had "homosexuality problems." A police report uncovered by U.S. attorneys at the dioceses of Tehuacan, where Rivera was bishop in the 1980s, showed clearly that some parents had alleged that Aguilar had abused their sons.
In his deposition, Mahony, who was the bishop of Los Angeles in the 1980s, repeatedly denied that he understood any coded message from Rivera when he received a letter introducing Aguilar as a visiting priest. During his nine months in Los Angeles, Aguilar allegedly molested at least eight boys.
Mahony also said in his 205-page deposition that he believed Rivera didn't do enough to find and punish Aguilar after the priest fled back to Mexico. As recently as 2006, Mahony wrote a letter to Sergio Obeso, the archbishop of Jalapa in Mexico's Veracruz state, saying he'd received a tip that Aguilar might still be acting as a priest in the region. Mahony didn't send a copy of the letter to Rivera, and attorneys noted that prior requests for help sent to the cardinal had gone unanswered.
Michael Finnegan, an attorney for Jeff Anderson & Associates, the Minnesota law firm that's suing Rivera and Mahony, said the firm would pursue litigation in Mexico against Rivera and would continue its litigation against Mahony in Los Angeles.
"It was disappointing not only for us, but a lot of victims and survivors in Mexico," Finnegan said. "Cardinal Rivera is getting out on a technicality, rather than going to the merits."
Read Cardinal Rivera's deposition at http://media.mcclatchydc.com/smedia/2007/10/16/17/Rivera_Depo.source.prod_affiliate.91.pdf
Read Cardinal Mahony's deposition at
Read Cardinal Mahony's letter to the archbishop of Jalapa, seeking help in locating the Rev. Nicolas Aguilar at http://media.mcclatchydc.com/smedia/2007/10/16/17/jalapaletter.source.prod_affiliate.91.pdf
Some of the U.S. Roman Catholic Church's large molestation settlements:
_ September 2007, Archdiocese of San Diego, Calif., $198 million.
_ July 2007, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, $660 million.
_ December 2006, Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., $129 million.
_ June 2005, Diocese of Covington, Ky., $120 million
_ September 2003, Archdiocese of Boston, $85 million.