Investigation: U.S. Catholic Church Dumped Predator Priests in Mexico

29 May 2020

Jeffrey David Newell was accused nearly 30 years ago of sexually abusing a teenager in Los Angeles, according to interviews and a lawsuit filed a decade ago. (Photo: Elizabeth Conley / Houston Chronicle)

An investigation by ProPublica and the Houston Chronicle shows the Catholic Church allowed or aided dozens of priests to serve abroad as priests after being credibly accused of abuse in the United States.

ProPublica and the Chronicle analyzed lists published by 52 U.S. dioceses — encompassing the top 30 in terms of the number of credibly accused living clergy and those located in states along the U.S.-Mexico border. Reporters found 51 clergy who after allegations of abuse in the U.S. were able to work as priests or religious brothers in a host of countries, from Ireland to Nigeria to the Philippines. At least 40 had worked in U.S. states along the southern border, including 11 in Texas. No country was a more common destination than Mexico, where at least 21 credibly accused clergy found refuge.

One of the accused priests, Jose Antonio Pinal, is accused of groping and raping 15-year-old boy Ricardo Torres:

In an interview at his home and in a subsequent series of email exchanges, Pinal repeatedly denied sexually abusing Torres or that he “fled” California. But in some of the emails, he referred to what “happened” between him and Torres, and in an email sent Wednesday night, about a trip he took with Torres, Pinal said, “It was screwed up, but whatever happened was consensual.”

Just months after the allegations in California, Pinal resumed priestly work, ministering in indigenous villages in and around Tepoztlán, a small town near Mexico City known for archaeological sites, and he went on to serve for decades in parishes in the Diocese of Cuernavaca.

Now 68, he ministers from his home, where he has letters showing the church in Sacramento kept him on the payroll as it helped him find a new assignment. Pinal enjoyed a warm correspondence with the then-Sacramento bishop and officials in charge of Hispanic ministry, who in the months after the allegations advised him to work in Mexico for a “long period (5-6 years)” before returning to the U.S. Letters from the bishop were signed “con cariño,” or with affection.

Other cases include Jose Luis Urbina who is wanted on a three-decade-old warrant issued in California, and Nicolas Aguilar Rivera, one of the most notorious cases of an accused priest moving across international borders. Jeffrey David Newell, who was accused nearly 30 years ago of sexually abusing a teenager in Los Angeles, is the pastor at a church in Tijuana, Mexico. In response to questions from ProPublica and the Chronicle, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said Newell went to Tijuana for a retreat in 1993 and has remained there without permission.

For decades, the Catholic Church in the US concealed abuse by clergy, transferring priests from parish to parish, sometimes cloaking reasons for moves in code, such as “family and health reasons”, the ProPublica-Chronicle investigation states. To make matters worse, the ProPublica-Chronicle investigation found that the church’s ability to track abusive priests was even more limited internationally than within US borders. This is because the Vatican does not dictate what bishops must disclose about accused clergy.

The Friendly Atheist reports:

It was bad enough when the Church sent predator priests to different parishes within the U.S. But it appears that, after that game was discovered, they continued to send priests to other countries. As if allowing priests to rape brown or black kids was more acceptable than taking responsibility for the people they employed.

The Church: Code of Silence (Corrupt Priest Documentary) | Real Stories

In Bad Faith: Child Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church | Fault Lines

Unforgivable | The priest sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church

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