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Lawsuit by Mexican claiming clergy sex abuse can be heard in U.S., federal judge rules

February 28, 2011 |  2:54 pm

A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled Monday that a Mexican man who claims he was the victim of sexual abuse by a priest and a church conspiracy to conceal it can bring his lawsuit in U.S. federal court.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Josephine S. Tucker was the first clergy sex abuse case to gain a foothold in federal court under a little-used law that allows foreigners to bring human rights abuse claims here when the courts in their homeland have failed to provide relief.

The Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789 was designed to provide a forum for resolving claims of "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," and the abuses alleged by the Mexican plaintiff are covered by the statute, the judge ruled.

Lawyers for the alleged victim identified only as Juan Doe 1 hailed the ruling by Tucker, a recent appointee of President Obama, as "groundbreaking" and cause for hope that pedophile priests in other countries may still be brought to justice.

"This gives hope to those abused in other countries by priests transferred internationally that they can finally do something about it," said Anthony DeMarco, the Beverly Hills attorney representing the plaintiff, who was 12 years old at the time he alleges he was raped by Father Nicholas Aguilar Rivera in the Diocese of Tehuacan.

Aguilar was transferred to Los Angeles in 1987 and has been accused of at least 26 sexual assaults during the nine months he spent in the archdiocese, the lawsuit claims.

A lawyer for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Michael Hennigan, dismissed any significance to Tucker's ruling. He said the judge was simply saying that church officials need to take a different approach to challenging the lawsuit and that she would eventually determine it was without merit.

-- Carol J. Williams