A Catholic priest in northern Mexico is still nowhere to be found after 19 people filed a sexual abuse criminal complaint against him with authorities late last month.
Eduardo Córdova, a clergyman and legal representative for the church in the state of San Luis Potosi, is accused of using his clout to prey upon minors over the course of his 30-year career.
Evidence has been passed on to prosecutors but no formal charges have been filed yet. Cordova's current whereabouts are unknown.
The Vatican has since stripped Córdova of his clerical functions, following investigations into the alleged sexual abuse of a 16-year-old in 2012.
While 19 people came forward on May 30 to denounce the priest, local activist groups have claimed to have known about Córdova’s alleged abuses as early as 2004.
“There could be 100 victims,” said Alberto Athié Gallo, a former priest and founder of the organization Citizens’ Initiative, which works to bring sexual predators within Mexico’s Catholic Church to justice.
The allegations against Córdova publicly surfaced in April, when Athié said during an interview on a Mexico City radio station (MVS) that “there were many cases of sexual abuse within the church involving Eduardo Córdova.”
Scandal Rocks San Luis Potosi
The scandal has shaken the state capital of San Luis Potosí, where Cordova was a well-known figure.
In a series of VICE News interviews with Potosinos — state capital residents — the reaction is not of shock or even surprise, but rather of disappointment in a church that is seen as concentrating its efforts on covering up the crimes of one of their own.
While the Vatican has applied the “dismissal from the clerical state” to Córdova, a punishment used only in the most severe of cases, people in San Luis Potosí appear to have little faith that the authorities can apply the full weight of the law against the former priest.
“The church is attempting to prevent the full extent of these crimes from coming to light,” said parishioner Salvador Almendro, who was taking his 4-year-old son out to play in the city’s main square.
“The Catholic Church is a powerful institution in San Luis Potosi and makes life very difficult for those who oppose it,” Almendro said.
Alberto Martínez, another San Luis Potosi resident was equally unsurprised by the allegations.
“The whole church is working together to cover this up,” Martinez said. “They’d rather have an embarrassing situation kept quiet within their ranks than save the embarrassment of telling the whole truth to the public.”
The archdiocese of San Luis Potosí has urged any others with complaints to come forward. Church officials have stated that both current and previous archbishops of San Luis Potosí are willing to cooperate with the authorities.
Cordova’s Mixed Legacy
In the impoverished El Paseo district of the state capital, where Cordova spent a decade as pastor, he leaves behind a mixed legacy.
Cordova's successor Father Margarito Sanchez, who holds Mass without speaking of the crimes that have caused so much pain within his community, said that despite the brewing scandal, the ex-priest still maintains strong friendships in the community.
“He was a very great man who improved life a great deal within El Paseo,” Father Sanchez told VICE News in an interview following evening Mass last week. “He was exceptionally intelligent and used his brilliance to make a marked difference during the time he worked here.”
“He has many friends here in El Paseo, and I expect these are the same supporters who are helping him now in his time of need,” Sanchez said.
Córdova was very socially active in El Paseo during the decade he worked there.
He oversaw renovations not only to the church, but also organized community events to help those in need following various natural disasters that impacted his parish.
In particular, he was an active campaigner against the irresponsible disposal of industrial materials in state mining communities, which he claimed was resulting in cyanide poisoning in the water supply.
Alejandrina Ramírez Flores, a catechist who worked alongside Córdova for many years, still finds the accusations very difficult to believe.
Speaking to VICE News in the same place where he held his youth group meetings, she spoke of her suspicions regarding the truthfulness of the allegations against Córdova.
“The church has a lot of enemies in this state,” Flores said, refusing to name precisely whom she was referring to. “He was a very charismatic man, and that was intimidating to a lot of people. It wouldn’t surprise me if the church was ganging together against him.”
“If these accusations are true then it’s very disappointing,” she said. “But taking into account all that he did for the community, he’s still in my good books.”
The Catholic Lawyers College of Mexico has forwarded the evidence against Córdova to Mexican prosecutors.
Catholic Lawyers College of Mexico president Armando Martínez told the Catholic News Service that the church was "acting on a petition of the Pope and what he's asking: that we collaborate completely with the judicial system."
"What I know is this is the first time in which there was a canonic procedure and a public complaint. This is not something to be proud of," Martinez told Mexico City archdiocesan newspaper Desde la Fe.
Martinez said church authorities had investigated similar allegations against the priest 16 years ago, but had not found enough evidence to substantiate the claims.
The church in Mexico has a long history with sexual abuse cases reaching high within its ranks.
Marcial Maciel, perhaps Mexico’s most famous priest and founder of the Legion of Christ, was involved in one of the worst documented cases of pedophilia. The charges brought against him were only answered to by his organization following his death in 2008.
The Vatican rewrote Maciel’s epitaph in 2010 to describe him as having led a life “devoid of any scruples or authentic sense of religion,” in response to the claims against him, but otherwise, his victims have not seen compensation or any meaningful apology from the institution.