Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

Mexico: Charges or complaints made against priests of the Catholic Church in Mexico for sexually molesting children; threats made against witnesses or accusers

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 3 September 2003
Citation / Document Symbol MEX41860.FE
Reference 1
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Mexico: Charges or complaints made against priests of the Catholic Church in Mexico for sexually molesting children; threats made against witnesses or accusers, 3 September 2003, MEX41860.FE, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Vice-president of the Mexican Episcopal Conference (Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano), José Guadalupe Martín Rabago, recognized that there was still a problem with pedophilia among some priests in Mexico (Univision 6 May 2002). Father Alberto Athié, a member of the Latin-American Episcopal Council (Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano) and former secretary of the Episcopate's Social Pastoral Commission (Comisiones Episcopales de Pastoral Social y de la Paz) in Chiapas, noted that there were situations in which priests who had raped minors were transferred to other parishes by their superiors to avoid scandal (Reforma 8 Apr. 2002). According to Athié, [translation] "church leaders tend to be more interested in protecting priests and the Church rather than the dignity and rights of the victims" (ibid.).

The Catholic Church, however, [translation] "was unwilling to reveal the identities of the guilty priests" (Univision 6 May 2002). Because of the power the Church has in Latin America, [translation] "journalists, politicians, police, victims of sexual violence, believers and lay persons alike are afraid to report abuses" (ibid.). An article from the Univision news service stated that this was the reason why the subject was not for debate in Latin America (ibid.).

In 2002, the news magazine Proceso published an account of reported priest pedophile cases, but none of these priests was ever charged (Arizona Republic 22 June 2003). According to human rights organizations, no Mexican priest has ever been convicted of sexual abuse and only a few have been arrested (Boston Globe 22 Dec. 2002). This situation is due in part to the fact that so few of these crimes are being denounced (ibid.). Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera in Mexico City stated that, as far as he knew, there had been "no 'documented denunciation' alleging priestly sexual abuse of minors in Mexico" (National Catholic Reporter 19 July 2002).

Father Antonio Roqueñí, who was a member of the archiepiscopal Court of the archdiocese of Mexico for 20 years, indicated that the archdiocese of Mexico had reportedly settled cases with the families of victims who had been sexually abused by the clergy by paying them [translation] "reasonable damages" (Terra 18 Apr. 2002). According to Father Roqueñí, these settlements were supposed to keep victims from appearing before the civil courts and to prevent these cases from being disclosed (ibid.).

Father Roqueñí also said that [translation] "the pedophile priests who sexually abused children were punished and one case was brought before the criminal court, but some priests were transferred and others changed their ways" (ibid.). Under canonical law, punishments for priests who sexually abuse children range from [translation] "a reprimand" to suspension – which can lead to excommunication only when the punishment has not been respected (ibid.). Roqueñí added that there were [translation] "perhaps many more cases than those actually reported because there is no culture for denouncing such acts [in Mexico]" (ibid.).

Some newspapers reported specific cases of pedophilia among Catholic priests in Mexico. For example:

Between 1956 and 1958, and then again in 1996, Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Catholic "Legionarios de Cristo" congregation, was denounced by former clergymen from his congregation for sexually abusing minors (Terra 18 Apr. 2002). Maciel was charged for [translation] "serious offences" but not for sex crimes (ibid.). He exiled himself to Spain for three years and was dismissed as leader of his congregation (ibid.). A Vatican inquiry concluded that the accusations were [translation] "slanderous" and allowed Maciel to resume his duties (ibid.). His accusers subsequently gave up religious life (ibid.).

According to the El Ciudadano newspaper, a 16-year-old girl in Monterrey became pregnant after having sexual relations with a priest (El Ciudadano 24 Apr. 2002). The priest in question was transferred to another parish in Central Mexico (ibid.).

In Summer 2002, "several bishops reportedly admitted that they had covered up for priests accused of sexual abuse and that large sums of money had been paid to keep victims silent" (Inter Press Service 21 Aug. 2002).

Reverend Felipe Valenzuela, director at a children's shelter in Los Mochis, denied allegations that he sexually molested some of the children (Boston Globe 22 Dec. 2002). The clergy in the town rallied to his defence and promoted him to the cathedral in Culiacan (ibid.). "Several prosecutors and human rights workers have reported receiving death threats for their role in keeping alive the case against Valenzuela" (ibid.). Valenzuela was charged in October 2001 and was acquitted in September 2002 (ibid.).

Reverend Irepón Núñez, accused of having touched children in a sexual manner and of having made indecent proposals to them, found himself the target of an attack from the villagers in Llera (El Mostrador n.d.). Local authorities were forced to intervene and take him to Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas (ibid.). Apparently, this priest had been previously transferred from Jaumave to Llera because of similar problems (ibid.).

In response to priest pedophilia, a bill was passed in November 2002 that increased the maximum prison sentence for child molesters from 12 to 28 years and made the crime a federal offence (Boston Globe 22 Dec. 2002). The bill, however, was not applied retroactively and, in December 2002, was still pending approval in the Senate (ibid.). No additional information on this bill could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

According to one source, priest pedophilia has become a political issue in Mexico (San Jose Mercury News 18 Apr. 2002). President Vicente Fox is the leader of the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN), a very conservative party with historically strong ties to the Catholic Church (ibid.). In April 2002, the conference of bishops declared that "accusations of sexual crimes by priests should be handled in Mexico's Catholic Church" (ibid.). Two days later, however, Cardinal Norberto Rivera said that priests accused of sex crimes should not receive any special treatment (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Arizona Republic. 22 June 2003. "O'Brien Makes News in Mexico; Arrest Viewed as 'Positive'." (Dialog)

Boston Globe. 22 December 2002. Marion Llyod. "Priest's Accusers Pose Test for a Powerful Institution Prosecutors Say." (Dialog)

El Ciudadano [Santa Fe, Argentina]. 24 April 2002. "La 'tolerancia cero' llega a la Iglesia." [Accessed 27 Aug. 2003]

El Mostrador. n.d. "Casi linchan en Mexico a sacerdote acusado de pederasta." [Accessed 1 Sept. 2003]

Inter Press Service. 21 August 2002. "Cinema: Film on Misbehaving Priests Angers Catholics." (Dialog)

National Catholic Reporter. 19 July 2002. John L. Allen Jr. "U.S. Media in Anti-Church Plot Says Mexican Prelate." (Dialog)

Reforma. 8 April 2002. "Reconocen pedofilia en curas mexicanos." [Accessed

27 Aug. 2003]

San Jose Mercury News. 18 April 2002. Kevin G. Hall. "Sex Scandal also Spreading in Mexican Catholic Church Legal Experts Insist Courts Must Handle Cases." (Dialog)

Terra. 18 April 2002. "Iglesia mexicana impediría acusaciones de abuso sexual con 'arreglos monetarios'." [Accessed 27 Aug. 2003]

Univision. 6 May 2002. Jorge Ramos Avalos. "Las listas de los sacerdotes criminales." [Accessed 27 Aug. 2003]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases


Internet sites, including:


Camara de Diputados H. Congreso de la Union

El Universal

La Jornada

Search engine:


Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

Search Refworld