Thursday, May 3, 2012

"One of the Sickest Individuals" Gets Away With It

Father Louis DeSimone heard a commotion. When he went to investigate, he found Father Nicholas V. Cudemo "trying to calm a hysterical girl."

The girl left the church shouting that she loved Father Cudemo. When Father DeSimone asked what was going on, Father Cudemo explained that the girl had a crush on him.

The year was 1969, and the hysterical girl was one of the first victims mentioned in the secret archive files of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In court Thursday, Detective Joseph Walsh methodically read from the secret files the stories of 10 more victims of Father Cudemo, described memorably to a grand jury by the late Msgr. James E. Molloy, Cardinal Bevilacqua's former vicar for administration, as "one of the sickest individuals I ever knew."


Six months after the hysterical girl, church officials reported that Father Cudemo had a woman in his rectory room for half an hour with the door closed. When confronted, Father Cudemo claimed "he was not misbehaving."

In 1975, a woman wrote the archdiocese to tell them that Father Cudemo was having sex with a teenager "who may have been pregnant." The priest was reported to have taken the girl, just 13, on a vacation to Florida. The letter writer described the victim as "a beautiful simple girl, not bright," according to a memo in the secret archive files written by Father Francis J. Statkus, chancellor of the archdiocese.

When confronted by Statkus, Father Cudemo said the girl was a friend, but that there were "no sexual overtures" to their relationship. Father Cudemo admitted he was "attracted to younger girls," but said all he did was counsel them.

Father Cudemo claimed "he is faithful to his priestly obligations," Father Statkus wrote in the secret archive files.

Sadly, this pattern was reported again and again. And no matter how many victims came forward, Father Cudemo continued to lie to his bosses and get away with it.

In September 1991, three victims came forward to tell their stories to Msgr. Molloy, and his assistant, Father William J. Lynn. Two of the victims were related to Cudemo. They included a nun who was a cousin that Father Cudemo used to kiss passionately. "It's OK for cousins to be real close," Cudemo told her. Another time, while he was driving her home, the nun said, Father Cudemo took her hand and placed it on his penis.

The priest began abusing another cousin when she was 10 years old. The victim told the archdiocese that Father Cudemo was someone she thought "she could look up to and trust."

"He was extremely manipulative," the victim told Molloy and Lynn. "He had a violent temper." He would call the girl and tell her what to do on the phone while he masturbated. He started with kissing and fondling and then introduced the victim to oral sex. He would have her undress and then lay on top of her naked and "ejaculate all over her." "He would be forceful with her and hold her down," the files said.

The victim attempted suicide several times, and began to have seizures. "She stated she is petrified of him," Lynn wrote in the files. "She stated her life has been ruined." When she got married, and her husband tried to make love to her, "she wound up screaming."

When confronted by church officials, Father Cudemo denied most of the charges, except when asked if he had laid naked on the victim. "Possibly," he said.

"He had known lots of women," Father Cudemo told his inquisitors. He confessed to "some minor involvement," but stated that he never had oral sex or intercourse. As a celibate male, "he needed female companionship," he said. He was also a conspiracy theorist.

"A lot of people are out to get me in my life," Cudemo said. The priest told his inquisitors that he was "always afraid of women," although he "always wanted to be near them."  He also claimed that all the alleged incidents happened 20 years ago.

"People are jealous of me," he said. The women involved wanted his affections, he claimed, and whatever he did, "he didn't hurt anybody." He said he wished he was a homosexual, because his life would have been easier.

In 1991, another victim who was a nun, called the archdiocese to complain. "He molested her," Lynn wrote about the nun in the secret archive files. On a trip to Florida, Father Cudemo took the victim's hand and placed it on his genitals, and asked her to "hold me."

"All she ever felt was shame about this, but now she feels anger," Lynn wrote.

In 1992, the cousin that Cudemo had begun abusing when she was 10 years old filed a  lawsuit against the priest. Cudemo had gotten the victim pregnant as a teenager and paid for an abortion.

That same year the lawsuit was filed, Cudemo was placed on an administrative leave of absence and told to check into a hospital for treatment, but he refused. In 1993, Cardinal Bevilacqua restricted Cudemo's priestly faculties to just saying private Mass for his own benefit.

Other victims continued to come forward. In 1995, Father Cudemo was accused of sexually harassing a woman who was doing community service at St. Jude's in Chalfont.


The lawsuit filed against Father Cudemo by his cousin was withdrawn, however, in 1995 because the claim did not fall within the statute of limitations. The next year, 1996, Cardinal Bevilacqua began an administrative process to strip Cudemo of his priestly rank because of his "longstanding pattern of immoral behavior" and disobedience."


While he was on the witness stand Thursday, Detective Walsh read excerpts from 68 files into the record. But two documents were missing, psychological assessments of Father Cudemo supposedly done in the early 1990s by two different clinics.

In 1996, Cudemo's psychologist  wrote to Msgr. Lynn that Father Cudemo was "not a pedophile," and "not a danger to anybody." The psychologist sought to lift all restrictions on Cudemo's ministry.

In 1996, Cardinal Bevilacqua accepted Father Cudemo's retirement, granting him a full pension and benefits. The following year, Msgr. Lynn wrote a letter to Cudemo certifying that he was a "retired priest in good standing in the archdiocese of Philadelphia." Lynn subsequently wrote Cudemo, telling him he could "help us out in the summer months" by working as a substitute priest.

In 2001, an 11th victim came forward and said she had been molested by Cudemo 20 years ago in the confessional, when she was a fifth and sixth grader. A police officer investigating the claim interviewed Msgr. Lynn, now on trial on charges of conspiring to endanger the welfare of children by allowing priests like Cudemo to remain active in ministry.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington charged in court that Lynn had lied to the police officer, telling her that the victims who had come forward against Cudemo were all family members. Only 3 of the 11 were family members, Blessington said.

At the time, Cudemo was trying to become a minister in Florida, Blessington said.

Lynn told the police officer that Cudemo was not permitted to work as a minister in Florida, Blessington said, but failed to mention that at the time, Cudemo was permitted to work as a substitute priest in Philadelphia.

The trial resumes Monday, at 9:15 a.m. in Courtroom 304 of the Criminal Justice Center.

4 comments:

  1. Excellent reporting, Ralph.

    Fr Cudemo was well protected by Cardinal Bevilacqua, Bishops Cistone, and Cullen, Lynn, Malloy, and dozens of others.

    Here are a few more excerpts from the grand jury report about Fr Cudemo:

    *trigger alert*

    - ejaculated on the face of a 10 year old girl as she was nude on the ground (p 142)
    - he got a 12 year old girl pregnant and took her for an abortion (p 20)
    - he had a total of 16 victims that they know about
    - even Fr Malloy called him "one of the sickest people I ever knew (p 19)
    - as Molly said, this started with complaint letters to Cardinal Krol in 1966, but had happened for years before (p 19)
    - As more and more victims came forward, Cardinal Bevilacqua steadfastly refused to remove Fr. Cudemo as pastor of Saint Callistus parish (p 35)
    - Cudemo was related to at least 2 of the girls he molested (p 133)
    - Cudemo sometimes brought in other priests to rape his victims (p 135)
    - Cudemo sometimes stuck a Eucharist into a young girl's vagina (p 135)

    Quoted from page 143, the admissions to Msgr Lynn in 1991:

    "Father Cudemo was interviewed twice in response to his family’s allegations, on October 2 and 3, 1991. Father Cudemo gave a rambling mixture of admissions and denials – stating he “possibly” lay nude on top of an undressed girl; had been confronted by a girl about touching her and performing sexual acts on her, but didn’t remember doing those things and “I remember everything”; that he had “known lots of women and that it always takes two to do these things;” that if sexual activities did occur, they must have happened 20 years ago; that all the girls were willing, and that “nothing close to sexual happened with these girls.” When told his accusers were family, he immediately said their names and talked about having “incidents” with them."

    Cardinal Bevilacqua allows Cudemo to retire, as a good priest, with full freedom and retirement benefits, in 1997 (p 149)

    Quoted - "Bevilacqua bestowed on Fr. Cudemo the status of retired priest, and gave him permission to fully exercise his priestly faculties throughout the Archdiocese. On Jan. 21, 1997, Monsignor Lynn issued an open-ended certificate of “good standing” to assist Fr. Cudemo in his efforts to minister in Florida parishes as well."

    All told, 16 child rape victims that they know about, but Cudemo continued to work with children, courtesy of the Catholic pedophile protection program.

    Cudemo is now free, believed to be living in his house in a densely populated residential area in Orlando, just a mile from SeaWorld.

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  2. Tragically this story is oh so familiar.... ! And so many get away with it because of the systemic vow of silence..

    "Why Didn't Good Priests Speak Out"?

    There are a very few, who can be counted on one hand.
    But that question has haunted victims of clergy abuse. And that question still haunts us today because if there any good priests, where are they and why aren't they trying to help clean up this mess?.

    To this day, the so called good priests still do not speak out about clergy abuse, or any other kind of abuse going on within this secret system. Could it be they are all chicken? Could it be they worry what people will think? Could it be they will lose their jobs? Could it be they don't care what happens to innocent children? Or could it be they too have something to hide?

    I have listened to many stories of a children being sexually abused, while the other priest in the parish actually witnesses a child being sexually abused and they just walk right past, not even considering to save that child. One was walking passed the bedroom. one was walking passed the abuse happening in the priests car which was parked in the rectory garage. Then there was the victim who was terribly beaten up and bloodied by the priest who sexually abused her, (because she told a friend about him)-- and as she was hurting and crying walking out of the rectory, another priest was walking in, and did not even acknowledge her..!!

    The only thing that comes to mind is this: many of those so called good priests may not be so good. When a child predator priest is confronted by another priest or bishop, he can say, "you can't tell on me, because I will tell on you".

    If there are any good priests out there, we wish they would get up their courage to live with integrity and help to expose the truth and get this abuse stopped.

    There is way too much at stake... the safety of our children.!!

    Keep in mind your silence only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511
    snapjudy@gmail.com
    (SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims.
    SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 members. Despite the word "priest" in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers and increasingly, victims who were assaulted in a wide range of institutional settings like summer camps, athletic programs, Boy Scouts, etc. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

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  3. Judy,

    I will try and answer.

    Could it be they are all chicken?

    No, some of them are quite brave on other matters. For example, there are priests in Central and South America that spoke out against cruel regime's at great personal risks to themselves. This appears to be a bizarre blind spot in their fortitude.

    "Could it be they worry what people will think?"

    Some are overly concerned with their own image; but others don't seem to care what people think. Clearly many priests know that the majority of their congregations think that the church's stand on birth control is ridiculous. And with the abuse crisis, they have to know that people no longer view priests as pillars of moral authority. They are ultimately preoccupied with what their own fraternity of priests thinks about them. Like others in close male fraternities, cops, soldiers, they are most concerned about what their buddies and colleagues think about them. Their is a code of secrecy and loyalty that is paramount to any other moral concern.

    "Could it be they will lose their jobs?"

    They won't get fired for turning in another priest, but they will be viewed as having broken the code of mutual protection and secrecy. They will never rise beyond their current position if they break the code.

    "Could it be they don't care what happens to innocent children?"

    Whether it be soldiers, cops, teammates or fraternity brothers, there is a strange phenomena that arises of "us v. them." They stop perceiving of those outside their little cell as being even fully human. Women clearly are not considered to be either equal or as important. Because they don't have children, they don't develop the same attachment to children that parents or prospective parents do. And they are others. Why did normal US teenagers go into little Vietnamese villages and either participate in cruelty to children or ignore it. Why did German officers walk into death camps and watch children's bodies pile up? To those folks, these children are others and they are relatively immune from their suffering.In my opinion, people are conditioned to deal with the death of children. Throughout our evolution, childhood mortality due to starvation and illnesses was common. The story of Hansel and Gretl is pretty primal. Aside from the natural bonding between parents and child, humans evolved to tolerate bad things happening to children. Our child-centric society is relatively recent.

    "Or could it be they too have something to hide?'

    I think that this is part of it too. Most male fraternities have a hazing or indoctrination ritual; often it is downright homoerotic. Fraternity hazing involves a great deal of sexual degradation and male nudity. Military boot camps also traditionally involved a great deal of male bonding that someone outside would see as very intimate. The same is true of cops or sports teams. Gangs and prisoners have similar rituals. Showering together, changing together, working out together. And there are a series of little crimes and indiscretions that test loyalties. Stealing a sign, hazing a fellow officer, roughing up a suspect or opposing teammate. And most of these groups are anti-women and always regarded the introduction of women as inconsistent with the cohesiveness of the group. So you have a gradual indoctrination with little crimes to test loyalties and create a separation from women or anybody not inside the fold. In the seminary, according to most reports, there is a great deal of sexual contact between the young seminarians that is widely known among their peers forever. It is rationalized--they have to give up women, and it is a hard life of celibacy, this is only fair. (the same happens in prison) So, yes; they are corrupted and changed even before they come out of the seminary. If you were blowing your classmate in seminary and nobody told, its difficult to investigate or turn in your brother priest who is involved in an inappropriate priest.

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  4. Subscribing to comments, I'm here reading them

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