October 16, 2007 / 9:04 PM / 12 years ago

Lawsuit against Mexican cardinal dismissed in LA

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Los Angeles court on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera that accused him of conspiring with U.S. Roman Catholic officials to shuttle a priest wanted for sex abuse between Mexico and California.

Los Angeles Superior Court judge Elihu M. Berle ruled that the U.S. courts had no jurisdiction in the case, which has rocked the Catholic Church in predominantly Catholic Mexico.

“The court said that this case should be in Mexico, not in California. They dismissed it on a legal technicality not on the merits of the case at all,” said Mike Finnegan, a lawyer for the plaintiff.

The lawsuit was filed last year by former altar boy Joaquin Aguilar Mendez of Mexico City, who said he was raped in Mexico at age 13 by a priest named Nicolas Aguilar Rivera. The suit also claims that Aguilar was shunted between Los Angeles and Mexico City by Catholic Church officials to avoid arrest.

The whereabouts of the priest, who is not related to the cardinal nor the plaintiff, are unknown. He is wanted in Los Angeles on multiple charges of sexually abusing young boys.

Both Cardinal Rivera and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony were named in the original suit. Finnegan said the case was unprecedented among thousands of sexual abuse charges brought since 2002 in the United States against Catholic priests and bishops accused of covering up the activities of pedophiles.

Finnegan, who in August traveled to Mexico to question Cardinal Rivera, said he was disappointed with the ruling.

He said he would explore an appeal as well as possibly having the case heard in Mexico. Groups representing victims of sexual abuse by priests have said they filed suit in Los Angeles because they could not get justice in Mexico.

“There are a lot of people who were hurt in Mexico by Cardinal Rivera and his people. I am also disappointed that Cardinal Rivera is hiding behind legal technicalities rather than going on the merits of the case,” Finnegan said.

Rivera and Mahony have contradicted each other’s version of events. Mahony says the Mexican church did not warn him of Aguilar’s record when the priest arrived in Los Angeles in 1987. Aguilar left Los Angeles on short notice in 1988 before he could be investigated for sex abuse and worked for several parishes in Mexico.

Mahony, head of the largest Catholic archdiocese in the United States, settled his part of the lawsuit with Mendez in July when the Church agreed to pay a record $660 million settlement to more than 500 victims of priestly sex abuse.

Mahony had previously termed the conspiracy charge “preposterous and without foundation.”

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