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Philadelphia D.A.: Did church put kids at risk?

Prosecutors say Bevilacqua and his aides were lenient and lax with abusive priests.


By Nancy Phillips and Maria Panaritis
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writers
July 25, 2004

Prosecutors investigating sexual abuse by priests in Philadelphia believe that Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua and his top aides put children at risk by treating abusive priests with leniency and lax oversight.

As District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham weighs whether to proceed with criminal charges, her staff has unearthed a number of disturbing abuse cases that have never been made public.

According to people familiar with the two-year-old grand jury inquiry, law-enforcement officials contend that these cases reveal an institutional breakdown. Prosecutors, the sources say, cite these failings:

Church officials returned some abusive priests to ministry after therapy, but did not alert parishioners - or even fellow priests - about their past behavior.

In at least one case, church higher-ups instructed that a priest be kept "on a short leash" on his return to a parish from a psychiatric hospital, but never told his pastor.

In some instances, the church conducted little or no investigation until a succession of complaints forced action. Some abusers remained in ministry for years, if not decades, after victims came forward.

Prosecutors apparently have documented no cases in which reassigned abusers assaulted again.

Still, those with knowledge of the investigation say prosecutors think that the church's handling of complaints posed a risk to minors that could amount to a crime: endangering the welfare of children.

"The issue is why certain people were left in place when they had been identified as at risk," said a former member of the archdiocesan hierarchy familiar with the inquiry. "Unjustifiable risks were taken."

Abraham ultimately will decide what her office will do. Her options include charging church leaders as individuals, charging the church as an institution, or filing no charges, but issuing an investigative report.

Any criminal case appears far from open-and-shut.

For one thing, the fact that no priests are known to have abused again might undercut any possible criminal liability. Lawyers for the archdiocese may well argue that any potential risk never became actual harm.

And the very fact that accused abusers were placed in "restricted ministry" - designed to limit contact with minors - would make it more difficult to show that the officials had the required criminal intent, one defense lawyer said.

In early 2002, when the church abuse scandal was erupting nationwide, the archdiocese dismissed several priests who it said had sexually assaulted children. It would not identify them or say how many had been let go.

Church officials said they knew of 35 priests in all who had assaulted about 50 children during the last half-century. In the next two years, they dismissed five more priests.

In some dioceses, notably Boston, church leaders shuffled abusive priests from parish to parish, with no real changes in their duties.

But in Philadelphia, Bevilacqua took a tougher approach after taking over in 1988. He created the restricted-ministry model. Under it, some abusive priests were permitted to return to parish rectories, but their ministries were restricted to such places as nursing homes and monasteries.

In 2002, the cardinal abandoned that policy, instead pledging flatly to dismiss abusers. Bevilacqua, now 81, retired last year and was succeeded by Cardinal Justin Rigali.

While the archdiocese early on adopted policies more rigorous than those elsewhere, people familiar with the grand jury's inquiry say prosecutors believe those procedures still fell short.

From interviews with victims, church officials, and people with knowledge of the investigation, The Inquirer has identified key cases under review by the grand jury. They include:

A priest who allegedly assaulted four young girls - three of them cousins - for years at a time in the 1970s. When the family reported the abuse to the archdiocese in 1991, the priest was formally diagnosed a "pedophile," according to two people familiar with the case.

Nevertheless, the priest later was given an official archdiocesan letter proclaiming him in good standing with the church.

He was not removed from ministry until 2002, years after his alleged victims had come forward.

A priest who allegedly sodomized four young boys at three different parishes in the 1970s and 1980s. When two victims reported him in the 1990s, he was sent for treatment but allowed to return to a parish rectory.

He was not dismissed until early 2002.

A priest who was accused of sodomizing a young boy in 1982 but who remained in parish ministry for two decades, even though the boy's parents alleged abuse to the archdiocese within months of the attack.

The priest was not dismissed until late 2003.

Most of the allegations under review by the grand jury are years, sometimes decades, old. Thus, the statute of limitations on any crimes has expired.

So rather than pursuing criminal charges against individual priests, law-enforcement officials have focused on the church's institutional response.

To that end, they have scrutinized the Secretariat for Clergy, the office charged with investigating abuse complaints.

Msgr. William J. Lynn headed the office for much of Bevilacqua's tenure, and handled a number of the cases under grand jury review. While some of Lynn's recommendations during that time are under prosecutors' scrutiny, church law gave Bevilacqua the final say.

In recent months, as the investigation intensified, prosecutors took the extraordinary step of calling Bevilacqua before the grand jury. Lawyers for the church and prosecutors have discussed the possibility of a guilty plea - by the institution, not individuals.

At one point the archdiocese considered pleading guilty to endangering the welfare of a child.

Under Pennsylvania law, those "supervising the welfare of a child" commit that crime when they endanger "the welfare of a child by violating a duty of care, protection or support."

A plea of some kind would not be unprecedented. The archbishop of Cincinnati last November pleaded no contest on behalf of his archdiocese to misdemeanor counts of failing to report abuse to authorities.

In December 2002, the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., formally admitted that prosecutors likely had enough evidence to convict the diocese on a misdemeanor charge of child endangerment.

Through a spokeswoman, Abraham, the district attorney, declined to comment, citing grand jury secrecy rules.

Lawyers for the archdiocese also declined to comment, as did lawyers for church leaders, including Bevilacqua and Lynn. In a statement, the archdiocese said:

"The Archdiocese of Philadelphia takes seriously and will investigate thoroughly any allegation of abuse. We are committed to doing everything humanly possible for the protection of children and young people."

As part of its work, the grand jury has examined voluminous church records dating back decades, including sensitive documents from its so-called secret archives. Those archives include medical and personnel records previously open only to the top echelon of the archdiocesan hierarchy.

The Rev. Nicholas Cudemo was a family friend who took Diane Freedman Drinker out for ice cream and called her his "favorite girl."

In time, she said in an interview with The Inquirer, the priest's affections turned physical. When he said he wanted to kiss her, she said she reluctantly let him. The first time they had sex, she said, he chastised her for tempting him to break his priestly vows.

She was 10.

For six years during the 1970s, Drinker said, Cudemo repeatedly had sex with her and forced her to perform sex acts. She said the abuse took place in rectories in Conshohocken, Norristown and Blue Bell.

Sometimes, she said, he invited other men to join him. Afterward, she said, he would make her kneel and say the rosary.

One night, when she was 12, Drinker said, Cudemo and several other priests raped her in a locked church. Drinker, 44, of Conshohocken, said she can't remember precisely where it happened because she has tried to block out the memory.

Yet she vividly recalls the fear.

"You just absolutely freeze," said Drinker, a registered nurse and mother of three. "It paralyzes you."

Drinker agreed that her name could be published in this article. She said it took years for her to come to terms with what had happened.

In 1991, Drinker said, two of her cousins told her that they, too, had been abused by Cudemo. Together, the three women went to the archdiocese and reported the abuse.

The statute of limitations had run out, but the women were not seeking to have the priest arrested, Drinker said. They simply wanted him removed from the priesthood.

That did not happen for more than a decade.

Cudemo, 67, who now lives in Orlando, Fla., declined to comment in a brief telephone interview. "I've been instructed by counsel that nothing can be discussed," he said.

Drinker's cousins declined to be interviewed.

The same year that church officials were investigating the reports by Drinker and her cousins, they received another complaint about Cudemo.

In a recent interview with The Inquirer, a Philadelphia woman said that she informed the archdiocese in 1991 that the priest had abused her in the 1970s. The assaults started when she was a 15-year-old student at Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia, she said.

The woman said she told officials that the relationship continued into adulthood. She broke it off when she was 29, she said, and reported it four years later.

The archdiocese questioned Cudemo. He reportedly denied any wrongdoing.

The priest was sent for treatment at a psychiatric hospital. There, he was diagnosed as a "pedophile," according to a church official and another person familiar with the case.

Cudemo disputed the diagnosis. Bevilacqua permitted him to seek a second opinion from a doctor of his choosing, the church official said. The second report concluded that Cudemo suffered from depression and had problems with "impulse control," the official said.

The priest was asked to resign but resisted, according to three people familiar with the case.

Cudemo was at St. Callistus in West Philadelphia when the 1991 complaints against him came in. He lost his position there in 1994 - he was "cut loose," according to an archdiocesan official.

He lived for a time with his sister in Abington, but then began to seek part-time parish work.

At Cudemo's request, the archdiocese in the mid-1990s issued him a celebret, a letter declaring the priest in good standing, according to someone familiar with the church's action.

The letter, signed by Lynn, then the head of the Secretariat for Clergy, could be used as a credential to allow him to say Mass.

It could not be learned whether the cardinal had authorized Lynn to issue the document.

"I was shocked that he was given this letter," said one archdiocesan official. "You could take that paper anywhere in the world."

Drinker, now an activist on the sexual-abuse issue, said she was stunned to learn in 2000 - nine years after her initial report - that Cudemo was living at the rectory at St. Matthew's Parish in Conshohocken and saying Mass there.

When she called Lynn about it, she said, he told her Cudemo was officially retired but allowed to say Mass.

"There's a priest shortage," she said Lynn told her. "If he offers help, they're going to take it."

Drinker said she learned from the archdiocese in 2002 that Cudemo had been discharged that year, one of several priests who the church said had been credibly accused of sexual abuse.

The 13-year-old boy went to the Rev. Stanley M. Gana for help. He had been raped by a family friend, and his parents had turned to the priest for counseling.

In a matter of months, said the victim, now 41, Gana began to abuse him sexually.

In an interview with The Inquirer, he said the priest convinced him "that everything that happened between me and him was OK because he was teaching me how to love again."

The abuse began in the 1970s at a Kensington church, and lasted a decade, he said.

Gana, now 61, abused four boys at several parishes during the 1970s and 1980s, according to interviews with two alleged victims and people familiar with allegations against the priest.

Accounts vary about when the archdiocese was first warned about Gana.

By one account, the archdiocese received its first warning about the priest in the 1970s. At that time, according to a person familiar with the grand jury's work, Gana's brother contacted the church to say he was worried about young boys staying overnight with the priest at the Gana family farm in upstate Pennsylvania.

However, the brother, Albert Gana, disputed that version when contacted by The Inquirer.

He said he had had doubts about his brother's conduct, but had not reported him.

"All I said at the time was, 'I don't know why you keep bringing all these kids up here,' " he said. "I threatened. I said, 'I'm going to call the archdiocese.' But I never did."

The District Attorney's Office called Albert Gana two months ago and asked him what, if anything, he had told the archdiocese three decades ago, he said.

Ordained in 1970, Stanley Gana early in his career served as assistant pastor at Assumption BVM in Feasterville. Next, he was at Ascension of Our Lord in Kensington through the late 1970s, and later at Our Lady of Calvary in Northeast Philadelphia in the 1980s.

In 1992, a man who had attended Our Lady of Calvary as a child told the archdiocese that Gana had sexually abused him starting at age 12.

The abuse, which included "everything from oral sex to sodomy," lasted until he was 16, said the man, who later became a priest himself.

There apparently was no investigation of Gana at that time, a church official said.

In 1995, the man who had been raped by a family friend as a child and sought counseling from Gana said the priest had abused him for years at the Kensington parish starting in the late 1970s.

The priest and the boy engaged in sex acts at Gana's farm, at the rectory, in the church, and on a trip to Disney World, the man said in a recent interview.

Gana routinely invited groups of youngsters to the farm and invited them to share his bed, calling in a different one each night, said the man. The priest referred to it as "special time," he said.

The man said it took years to deal with what had happened. After battling drug addiction and suicidal depression that gripped him through early adulthood, he said he reported the abuse in the mid-1990s to Lynn.

Lynn said the archdiocese would pay for therapy and promised that Gana would be removed from ministry, the man said.

After the 1995 complaint, Gana was removed from his job - at the time as pastor of a church in Bridgeport, Montgomery County - and spent time at a hospital in Canada, according to one of the men who reported him.

By 1997, Gana was back in a church rectory. The archdiocese allowed him to move into Immaculate Conception in North Philadelphia, records show.

His ministry at that point was restricted to serving as chaplain at a monastery, the records show.

Nonetheless, Gana was seen saying Mass at a packed Oak Lane church, surrounded by altar boys, at an Easter vigil in 1997, according to the man who filed the 1992 complaint.

The man, now 37, said he called Lynn to complain: "You told me he would only be saying Mass for cloistered nuns."

Lynn, the man said, told him "the cardinal felt [Gana] was better left in restricted ministry, being watched, than being let go.

"I was sitting before him as a priest saying, 'You have to get rid of him. He's a sick man and he needs to be removed.' "

The other man who reported abuse by Gana said that he, too, was upset to learn in the late 1990s that the priest was living at Immaculate Conception.

"I found out about that and said, 'Wait a minute. He's living in a rectory?' I said, 'They have young boys in rectories.' "

The man said that he then called Lynn and that the monsignor assured him the priest was "being closely monitored."

Gana was dismissed from the archdiocese in April 2002, with a group of priests let go then because of abuse allegations, according to a church official and others familiar with the case.

The man who filed the 1992 complaint described himself as "on leave" from the priesthood.

"I felt I could no longer serve in a church that didn't protect me or other children," he said. "I couldn't give my life to an institution any longer that let me down in so many ways."

The Rev. Francis X. Trauger was dismissed from the priesthood last year after a private investigator hired by the archdiocese concluded that he had abused children.

Trauger, now 58, had been a parish priest for three decades. He spent the last 10 years in Bucks County, at St. Michael the Archangel in Levittown.

According to Jay Abramowitch, a lawyer in Berks County, seven people have approached him to allege that Trauger abused them. Two filed lawsuits in March; the five others are considering suing, he said.

One suit contends that church officials were put on notice about Trauger in 1982 but allowed him to remain in parish ministry for more than 20 additional years.

Efforts to reach Trauger were unsuccessful. His mother, Clara Trauger, said Tuesday that her son was in the hospital and she did not know where.

"He needs help," she said from the Doylestown home she shares with him. "I think he's had a nervous breakdown."

Of the abuse allegations, she said: "No way. He never did anything wrong."

In one of the March lawsuits, a man identified only by the initials P.M.B. alleged that Trauger molested him in about 1981 when he was about 11 and an altar boy at St. Titus in Norristown.

The first instance of abuse occurred at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, when the priest took a shower with the boy and rubbed soap on his genitals, the lawsuit said. He later took the boy to a prayer service and dinner and took him home, the suit said.

The second instance came several months later in the Poconos, the suit contends.

"There were two beds," the man, now 35, said in an interview. "He told me we should just sleep in one bed so that the people don't have to make the other bed in the morning. We slept naked at his request, and then he just raped me throughout the night, for hours."

Within a matter of months, in 1982, the boy told his parents and they contacted the archdiocese, the suit said.

How the church responded is unclear. The archdiocese was led at that time by Cardinal John Krol, who preceded Bevilacqua and who has since died.

A church directory the following year listed Trauger's residence as St. John Vianney Hospital, a facility in Downingtown where abusive priests often were sent for treatment.

By 1985, the priest had returned to parish work, serving as assistant pastor at St. Francis de Sales in Southwest Philadelphia. A national Catholic directory listed Trauger as serving at seven different parishes over the course of the decade.

In the early 1990s, a Catholic school employee called the archdiocese to report that Trauger had come to school looking for a male student, said a church official with knowledge of the case.

The archdiocese consulted Trauger's file, but found only a vague record of the earlier complaint, the official said.

When asked why he had been looking for the boy, Trauger said he had met him at a bookstore and struck up a conversation, according to the official. Church officials strongly warned Trauger not to contact the boy, and the matter was dropped, the official said.

In an interview in early June, the private detective who investigated Trauger on behalf of the archdiocese said he had interviewed "more than one" person whose allegations he deemed credible.

"He was found to have engaged in sexual abuse of minors," said Jack Rossiter, a former FBI agent.

In December, the same month that the archdiocese announced Trauger's dismissal, the grand jury heard testimony from at least one of the priest's alleged victims, according to Abramowitch, the Berks County lawyer.

Rossiter, too, has been called before the panel to discuss his investigations.

He said his work on behalf of the archdiocese was part of a broad effort to review and clarify information in church files - "no matter how old."

The grand jury's work is ongoing.


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Contact staff writer Nancy Phillips at 215-854-2254 or nphillips@phillynews.com., or Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2759 or mpanaritis@phillynews.com. Staff writer David O'Reilly contributed to this article.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
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