July 18, 2007 / 12:24 AM / 12 years ago

U.S. lawyers to grill Mexican cardinal in abuse case

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - U.S. lawyers for a former altar boy plan to grill Mexico’s top Roman Catholic clergyman next month as part of an effort to sue him in a California court over claims he protected a suspected pedophile priest.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera faces an August 8 deposition in Mexico City, one of the world’s largest Catholic dioceses, Jeffrey Anderson, the plaintiff’s lawyer, said on Tuesday.

Rivera and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony are named in a U.S. civil suit filed by Joaquin Aguilar Mendez in Los Angeles. Mendez says a priest named Nicolas Aguilar raped him in Mexico in 1994 when he was 13 years old.

“We want to get the information out of Rivera about what he knew about this predator,” Anderson said. “We’re going to try to get answers from Cardinal Rivera about why he covered this up.”

Rivera, who was an outsider candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II, denies the accusations and says the Los Angeles court has no jurisdiction over him. His lawyer could not be reached for comment.

But last month, a spokesman for Rivera said that if the court decides it has jurisdiction in the case, the cardinal would be happy to give evidence in Los Angeles.

Anderson says the Los Angeles judge will have jurisdiction over Rivera if lawyers can show the cardinal knew Father Aguilar was a danger when he sent him to the United States.

Also named in the suit is Mahony, whose Los Angeles diocese finalized a settlement on Monday to pay a record $660 million to victims of clergy sex abuse.

BACK AND FORTH

Rivera is accused of sending Aguilar to Los Angeles to avoid a scandal after the rape, and Mahony is accused of allowing the priest to flee back to Mexico after a U.S. warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with several cases.

Aguilar is wanted on suspicion of raping dozens of children in the United States and in Mexico, where he is believed to be living in the countryside.

The plaintiff’s lawyers say that by questioning Rivera they can prove the U.S. court has the right to hear the case.

In a sworn affidavit, Rivera has said he had used secret church code in a letter to tell Mahony that Father Aguilar was homosexual, but that he had no knowledge of the pedophilia accusations. Mahony denies having ever received such a letter.

The church has faced abuse allegations worldwide over the past decade. Victims have alleged that church leaders often knew of the abuse but did not do enough to stop it.

Allegations of sexual abuse against priests have been made in predominantly Catholic Central America and Mexico, but there have been no large payouts to victims.

Marcelino Hernandez, a Mexican bishop involved in handling abuse cases brought against priests, said the Catholic Church in Mexico has no plan to compensate abuse victims. In an interview published on Tuesday in the Milenio newspaper, he said Mexican priests had groped but not raped victims.

In one of Mexico’s most notorious abuse cases, the Vatican last year ordered Father Marcial Maciel, the elderly founder of the Legionaries of Christ, to retire to a life of prayer after former trainee priests accused him of sexual abuse dating back to the 1940s.

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