A fugitive priest suspected of molesting as many as 26 altar boys in two Los Angeles Catholic parishes was formally charged Monday with sexually assaulting eight of the youths and two other children.
Father Nicolas Aguilar Rivera, 46, a Mexican national believed hiding in Mexico, was charged in a felony complaint issued by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office with 19 counts of committing a lewd act with a child.
Police and prosecutors said the filing of the charge is a necessary step in seeking Aguilar's arrest in Mexico if the priest fails to return to the United States voluntarily to face prosecution.
Aguilar, who arrived in Los Angeles a year ago with credentials that persuaded officials of the Los Angeles Archdiocese that he was a "priest in good standing," allegedly began his series of molestations while assigned to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in El Sereno.
After two months there, he moved to St. Agatha's Church in South-Central Los Angeles, where he remained for about six months until fleeing to Mexico in January after being confronted by church officials with complaints of his alleged activities from parents.
Aguilar, according to church officials in Mexico, stopped at his former diocese in Tehuacan in the Mexican state of Puebla after fleeing Los Angeles and announced that he was resigning as a priest. He said he was going to Cuernavaca, Mexico, to stay with relatives.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Al Jenkins said Monday that the charges against Aguilar are that he "fondled and masturbated" the 10 boys, all between the ages of 9 and 14.
No Extradition Treaty
"There's no extradition treaty between us and Mexico," Jenkins said. "He will either have to come back here himself or be arrested by authorities in Mexico."
Detective Gary Lyon of the Los Angeles Police Department's Juvenile Division, who investigated the case, said LAPD's first effort after the issuance of the formal complaint will be to "try to get the priest to come back voluntarily."
"If it appears he will not return, then we will try to get him prosecuted in Mexico," Lyon said. "This is the first time we'd be doing that in a child molestation case, but we've had good experiences in the past working with Mexican officials in drug and murder cases."
According to parents of some of the boys who were allegedly molested, Aguilar gained the trust of Spanish-speaking families in the two Catholic parishes and was welcomed into their homes. He stayed with some families and is accused of molesting some of his victims after persuading them to give him private English lessons.
The police have criticized as "unfortunate" a decision by archdiocese officials to confront Aguilar with the allegations against him before reporting the case to police. They also complained that church officials refused to provide them with lists of all altar boys at the two churches, slowing their investigation.