Mexican reporter says coverage of priest abuse case sparks threats

New York, January 17, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that Mexican reporter Sanjuana Martínez has been threatened for her coverage of allegations that a Catholic priest sexually abused dozens of boys in Mexico and the United States and that two cardinals sought to protect the priest.

Martínez told CPJ that she began receiving death threats in September 2006, when she began covering the case extensively for the Mexico City daily La Jornada and the daily news program “Hoy por hoy” on W Radio. Martínez also wrote a book about the case, Manto Púrpura (Purple Cloak), which was released in December.

Two lawsuits filed in California in 2006 accuse Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City and Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles of covering up charges of sexual abuse against the Rev. Nicolás Aguilar. The abuse allegations date back two decades. Last week, church leaders in Mexico asked the Vatican to defrock Aguilar, The New York Times reported.

In September, Martínez told CPJ, unidentified men began making nightly telephone death threats to her home in the northern city of Monterrey. The frequency of the calls lessened, she said, but the threats have continued.

Since Manto Púrpura was released by publisher Grijalbo Mondadori, Martínez said, threatening e-mail messages have been sent daily to an author’s account publicized in the book. In the unsigned messages reviewed by CPJ, the writers threaten to assault and kill Martínez because of her coverage of the Aguilar case.

Martínez told CPJ that on several occasions she has also been followed by vehicles without license plates. Martínez said she has not filed police complaints because she fears authorities might be corrupt and work against her. She said she has begun publicizing the threats in hopes that the exposure would be a deterrent.

Aguilar has denied the abuse allegations, and both cardinals have denied that they sought to protect the priest, according to press reports. Hugo Valdemar, Rivera’s spokesman, accused Martínez of trying to intimidate the church with a “monumental lie,” according to Mexican press reports.