St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson and colleagues arrived back in Minnesota today after being rescued by Mexico City police from a group of men who scuffled with them Wednesday at an unprecedented news conference announcing a sex-abuse lawsuit against a Mexican priest. Roman Catholic Church officials said they will ask federal authorities to investigate the three men.
Anderson, who was confronted along with colleague Michael Finnegan, victims' advocate David Clohessy and alleged abuse victim Joaquin Aguilar Mendez as they spoke to a crowd of journalists, said he is not convinced that the men were immigration officials. Clohessy said immigration authorities later said that they are, but that they acted without provocation and in a suspicious manner.
The group was in Mexico to talk about a lawsuit Anderson filed Tuesday in Los Angeles alleging that Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony conspired to protect the Rev. Nicolas Aguilar, whom they accuse of raping Mendez, now 25, in 1994.
Rivera heads the Mexico City archdiocese and was considered a candidate to replace Pope John Paul II when the pope died last year. Mahony heads the United States' largest archdiocese.
"Mexico's problem with clergy sex abuse is fivefold what it is in the United States," Anderson said. "But this is the first time a bishop or cardinal from Mexico has ever been named in a lawsuit."
Charges of rape in California
At the Mexico City news conference, Anderson! said th at Aguilar, who faces 19 child-molestation charges in California, continues to celebrate mass in the state of Puebla, in central Mexico.
Although Aguilar, who is in his 60s, has been convicted of only one sex-abuse charge in Mexico, in 2003, Anderson said he molested 60 boys in Mexico from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Mendez told the Mexican journalists gathered for the news conference that he has feared for his life since going public with his accusations last year.
Anderson said that after complaints about Aguilar in Mexico, he was sent to Los Angeles in 1988 with a letter warning American officials that he had "homosexual tendencies."In just nine months in California, he raped 26 children," Anderson said. When charges were filed there, "he fled back to Mexico," Anderson said, where he continues to act as a priest in remote areas. Clohessy said the information about Aguilar's whereabouts comes from "independent and credible sources."
Documents filed with the court gave an explicit account of the alleged rape of Joaquin Aguilar in October 1994. They said the 12-year-old had gone to the priest's room at the rectory to use a restroom, was grabbed by the priest and sodomized. It said the priest told the boy to keep quiet or his siblings would suffer the same abuse. The lawsuit says that Rivera, who presides over the 2,000-priest Mexico City diocese, conspired to move Aguilar to Los Angeles to keep him from facing trial and protected him upon his return to Mexico, and that Mahony cooperated.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Los Angeles archdiocese called the claim that it conspired to protect Aguilar "preposterous." Rivera's office issued a statement denying the claims or saying it does not know where Aguilar is. Mahony has denied that he received a letter warning him about Aguilar and later wrote a letter of rebuke to Rivera.
Reverence for Church
Anderson, who has filed several high-profile lawsuits in Minnesota and other states ov! er alleg ed sexual abuse by Catholic priests, brothers and nuns, said that clergy abuse of children in Mexico is widespread and largely unchallenged.
"There's a great cultural reverence for the church there, with 90 percent of the population Catholic, and church leadership has a close relationship with government," he said. "And Rivera is considered a saint there, so people are not very open to criticism of him."
Anderson said that near the end of the news conference, his group was accosted by "some officials who said they were immigration agents who demanded to see our papers, even though our paperwork was all fine." Amid what he called "a media frenzy," the men "pulled us toward a van they had outside until we told them to get their hands off of us." The attorneys called the U.S. embassy and the Mexico City police, who detained the men "and escorted us to the airport because they said they were concerned for our safety," Anderson said.
Anderson and Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said that the men were unable to produce official proof that they were immigration agents, paid no attention to the visitors' legitimate documents, offered no explanation for their intervention and wanted them to get into an unmarked black van with shaded windows.
Mexico's immigration office said in a statement that authorities were seeking to verify the visas of the three men after receiving a call questioning their status. It said there were concerns about whether they were authorized to give a news conference after entering the country on tourist visas.
Clohessy said they had no problems going through immigration at the airport on the way home.
"Even the police thought they might have been kidnappers," Anderson said. "It was quite chaotic, but we're fine. I wasn't intimidated, just concerned for the children of Mexico. Nobody has ever taken on a Mexican bishop, much less a cardinal, before. But it needs to be done." ! Clo hessy said that SNAP is working to establish an advocacy group for victims in Mexico. "Unfortunately, [Rivera] is already trying to paint SNAP as a confrontational group," he said. "That's simply not right. We're there to help people heal. But in Mexico, the Catholic church has far more power than government and the media, which have been the main agents of accountability and change in the U.S."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290 • firstname.lastname@example.org Rivera's lawyer, Bernardo Fernandez del Castillo, accused the group of trying to extort money from the Catholic church: "They are seeking economic compensation, but neither the cardinal nor the archdiocese will be blackmailed," he said. BRAVO!