Cullen: Church oversight lax on sex abuse

Deputy Philadelphia District Attorney Charles Gallagher was keenly aware that he had the bishop of the Allentown Catholic Diocese in the witness chair, yet he was finding it difficult to beat back the anger that was welling up inside him.

Children had been molested by priests, and during a Philadelphia grand jury investigation in November 2003, Bishop Edward Cullen was struggling to explain why the church protected pedophiles and not the children they hurt.

His words straining as he tried to keep his composure, Gallagher demanded to know why church officials never called police.

"I mean, is that asking too much, bishop, because I really don't think it is?" Gallagher said, as he questioned Cullen before a grand jury of 29 people.

"They didn't have to report it to law enforcement," Cullen said.

"I don't care what they had to do or what they didn't have to do as far as the dictates of law," Gallagher said, his voice rising. "The dictates of the Catholic church, the dictates of their conscience, the dictates of what is right and what is wrong, why didn't they call law enforcement and say: We got a pedophile on our hands and we need law enforcement to take him off the streets?

"I'm sorry I raised my voice," he added.

"Oh, no, no, no, I understand. That's a very delicate topic," Cullen said. "I'm just saying when you ask about the Catholic church, that is what all — that is modus operandi of how things were handled in those days, and it wasn't just the Catholic church. It was all the churches."

Gallagher asked why church officials didn't follow what they "learned in their faith and do the right thing?"

"I think when it comes to issues of this kind, at that time they did follow the law. There is no question about it. And I wish it had been a different setting and a different — a different manner of acting, but unfortunately, that's what happened," Cullen said.

That terse exchange is encased in nearly 800 pages of newly released testimony by Cullen, taken during a grand jury investigation into decades of child sexual abuse by clergy in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. In a rare move, testimony in the clergy abuse investigation in 2003 and 2004 was unsealed two weeks ago by a Philadelphia judge after attorneys for The Philadelphia Inquirer argued that its use in a related criminal case made it public.

The file, which covers testimony from Cullen and 10 other church officials, provides a rare glimpse inside the Catholic church as it struggled to deal with an emerging problem of clergy sex abuse.

The two-year investigation led to a scathing 2005 report that accused the Philadelphia Archdiocese of protecting pedophile priests, but no charges were filed because the statute of limitations had expired for all the abuse uncovered.

A follow-up report, released this year after more recent victims came forward, led to rape charges against two priests, a defrocked priest and a teacher. In addition, Monsignor William Lynn was charged with conspiracy and felony child endangerment for moving known abusers to new parishes where they would again be in contact with children. All have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

Lynn is the highest-ranking church official to be charged in the abuse cases that have exploded over the past three decades in dioceses across the country and have cost the Catholic church about $2 billion in payouts to victims. It was his case to which prosecutors attached the grand jury testimony as supporting evidence.

A 'different era'

As Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's vicar for administration — second-in-command in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia — Cullen supervised Lynn, whose job as secretary of clergy included reassigning priests.

By the time the grand jury was convened in 2003, Cullen had been bishop of Allentown for five years. By then, he was at the forefront of new policies to protect victims and report abusers. But in his extensive testimony, he acknowledged his new stance was years in the making.

Cullen's testimony revealed an evolution in the archdiocese's procedures for dealing with pedophiles. The priority shifted from rehabilitating the "mentally ill" priests who preyed on children, to protecting children from abusive priests.

"I think in understanding how the diocese or any institution acted in 1991, given the norms that were present, they were completely different than 2002, 2003," Cullen testified.

"It was a different era in understanding sexual abuse of an adult, of a minor, and I don't think there's any person that would act [that way] today, but they were acting within the guidelines of what they were getting from the behaviorists' field at the time."

At his Lower Macungie Township home Thursday, Cullen explained that he has declined to elaborate on his testimony because he was forbidden by the court to discuss it. He said the testimony is out of context and doesn't always project what he meant.

"I met with them [attorneys from the Philadelphia district attorney's office] for hours outside the hearings to clarify what I said," Cullen, 78 and retired, said Thursday, appearing in his doorway in a plaid shirt and khaki pants. "You don't get the real context from the testimony alone."

He would offer no further comment. The Philadelphia district attorney's office also offered no comment, citing a gag order a judge put on the case .

During more than 20 hours of testimony over four days in November 2003 and January 2004, Cullen described a culture in which church leaders struggled to deal with abusive priests. Though Cullen acknowledged allegations of sex abuse dating back to the 1960s, and a secret church archive to document them, he said he was not aware of any uniform policy for handling sex abuse allegations before 1988, and even that policy wasn't spelled out in writing until 1993.

In 1995, state child protection laws added clergy to the list of people mandated to report child abuse to authorities. But before that, it was up to the victims to report cases, Cullen testified. Church leaders at that time did what they thought was best for the community.

"The state says you don't have to report these. Why did the state say that?" Cullen testified. "Why did the state exempt churches? That's my question. I don't think they ever should have done it. It's a nightmare."

As incredulous attorneys asked how priests repeatedly accused of sex abuse could be shuttled from church to church, and even promoted to pastor, Cullen explained that he and Bevilacqua trusted Lynn's recommendations. And he repeatedly noted that back then, the church believed the priests could be rehabilitated. Keeping them under church supervision, while trying to get them treatment, was better than simply turning them loose into the community, they thought.

When priests were removed from their parishes under the cloud of sexual abuse allegations, archdiocesan officials were untruthful about the reasons, Cullen testified in response to questions about the Rev. Robert Brennan.

Brennan was appointed pastor of St. Ignatius parish in Yardley in 1988 and shortly afterward became the subject of complaints that he inappropriately rubbed, hugged and kissed young boys and teenagers. Brennan, whose case was highlighted in the grand jury report though he was not charged, was asked to leave the parish and was sent for a psychological evaluation to St. John Vianney Center, a behavioral health facility in Downingtown.

Parishioners were told Brennan was on retreat, according to grand jury testimony.

The assistant pastor of St. Ignatius, the Rev. John Marine, asked archdiocesan officials if he could tell parishioners that Brennan was on temporary sick leave.

Marine was instructed by Monsignor Samuel Shoemaker to "please continue to use the term 'retreat' until further notice, at least until further evaluations are completed," according to a church document used by the grand jury.

"I don't want to be indelicate about that, but that's a lie. Is that right?" Assistant District Attorney Maureen McCartney asked Cullen.

"It's certainly not – it's not the truth. It's not what it was," Cullen replied.

"OK. So it's a lie?" McCartney said.

"You could call it that," Cullen said.

'I'm still angry'

Priests who had allegations made against them or who were getting treatment when an allegation was deemed credible, often were placed in "limited" ministry where their interactions with parishioners, especially children, was restricted.

Asked what advantage he and Bevilacqua saw in keeping priests in "limited" ministry, Cullen told the grand jury: "You could say to the priest: Now, we want you not to take office. We want you not to have an assignment in a parish. We don't want you near children, and you know, he would be concerned about fighting his bishop on that."

Victims' groups have criticized the church for that practice, saying it did little to protect children.

"Every time I read something they've said, or something they've done, it's always about them — never about the victims," Juliann Bortz, local coordinator for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said after hearing of Cullen's testimony. "I shouldn't be surprised, but I'm still angry. I can feel my blood pressure rising through the roof."

Bortz said a priest abused her when she was a student at Allentown Central Catholic High School in the 1960s.

Since 2002, eight priests in the five-county Allentown Diocese serving 272,000 Catholics have been removed over allegations of abuse, and at least 11 have been targeted in civil lawsuits. That year, Cullen joined bishops nationwide in installing sweeping measures to protect children, including instituting background checks, setting up a panel to review abuse allegations and pledging to file criminal charges against any suspected abuser.

The Allentown Diocese has since done more than 17,000 background checks on priests and laypeople, and offered counseling to victims.

Cullen told the grand jury he implemented background checks for priests before the church mandated it.

"I checked the priests out before the norms came in," he said.

In response to Gallagher's question about how efficient Allentown's background checks were, considering no priests were prosecuted during Cullen's tenure with the diocese, Cullen said, "All I can say is all of my guys, dead or alive, were reported to the district attorney. Every one."

Many have credited Cullen, who was in charge of the diocese from 1998 until his retirement in 2009, with taking swift action to tackle the problem.

"Prior to 1998, it is clear that the primary focus of diocesan officials was on the individual priest rather than the victims of abuse," Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said in 2002, after the diocese opened its files to district attorneys in the five counties it serves.

Of the 13 cases reviewed in 2002 by Morganelli and Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin, all were beyond the statute of limitations and many involved priests who had since died.

"In his 11 years as bishop of Allentown, Bishop Cullen strengthened diocesan policies to promote the protection of children and young people," Matt Kerr, diocese spokesman said in an email. "He cooperated completely with the five district attorneys in the diocese. He appointed the first diocesan victim assistance coordinator and the first diocesan review board.

Kerr declined to comment on Cullen's testimony before the Philadelphia grand jury.

Hundreds of pages of testimony by Cullen centered on the careers of the Rev. Nicholas Cudemo and the Rev. Stanley Gana, who were given new assignments and promotions despite repeated accusations of sex abuse.

Cudemo, according to the grand jury report, was accused of having sexual relations with several girls in the 1960s and 1970s, with four of those complaints reported to the archdiocese before Cudemo became pastor of King of Peace parish in south Philadelphia in 1989, and St. Callistus parish in west Philadelphia in 1991.

In 1991, several victims came forward in protest, including two Catholic nuns, a woman who said Cudemo got her pregnant when she was 11 and took her to have an abortion, and a woman who claimed to have bought a Florida home with him during a 15-year sexual relationship that started when she was 15 .

According to the grand jury investigation, which led to no charges against the priest, Cudemo admitted to having "close relations" with teenage girls, and said he "possibly" lay naked on top of them, but never had intercourse. He was sent for a psychiatric evaluation in which he was labeled a pedophile, and placed on administrative leave. He refused Bevilacqua's request to resign as pastor and get inpatient treatment. He remained pastor of St. Callistus for nearly five years, though restricted from participating in parish activities. He resigned when Bevilacqua threatened to formally remove him in 1996.

"In 1992, using common sense, you had a pedophile on your hands," Gallagher said. "You guys knew it. We didn't know it. Law enforcement didn't know it. You knew it."

"That's right," Cullen said.

"What was done to make sure he wasn't continuing to be a pedophile during that four-year period?" Gallagher asked, noting that Cudemo's secret file listed no action taken by the archdiocese.

"It wouldn't surprise me if nothing was being done," Cullen said. "I know that they called him in periodically, as these [files] reflect, to try to get him supervised, in a setting where they could supervise him, and he would not do it."

A therapist chosen by Cudemo would later determine he was not a pedophile. The restrictions against him performing public services were removed and a letter authored by Lynn in 1997, and approved by Bevilacqua, allowed him to become a "retired priest in good standing," making him free to conduct public services at any church in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, according to the testimony. In 2005, after Cardinal Justin Rigali became head of the archdiocese upon Bevilacqua's retirement, Cudemo was defrocked.

'Blank spot'

Gana, who also was not charged, was accused of having sexual contact with numerous boys in a succession of Philadelphia area parishes through the 1970s and 1980s, according to the grand jury report.

Two of Gana's alleged victims came forward in the 1990s and begged Lynn to strip him of his status as a priest in good standing. But Gana remained in active ministry for more than a decade after the allegations surfaced, even after he admitted to a therapist that he had had sex with boys as young as 11. During that time, Lynn turned his investigation on Gana's accusers, the grand jury report alleges.

The first allegations against Gana came in 1991 during an investigation by Lynn and the Rev. James Molloy, then the assistant vicar of administration, into homosexual activity by an adolescent seminarian at St. Charles Seminary. That inquiry turned up several credible witnesses including fellow students, priests and a therapist who alleged the subject of the investigation was actually a victim of abuse by Gana, according to church documents used by the grand jury.

On learning of the allegations in 1992, Bevilacqua directed Lynn and Molloy to investigate Gana. Lynn failed to follow through for three years, according to documents presented to the grand jury.

Cullen said he first learned about Lynn's inaction from Gana's secret file that prosecutors showed him during his grand jury testimony. Cullen said he had no memory of the case, and simply agreed with prosecutors that the documents were likely accurate.

"Gana is a blank spot for me," Cullen said.

The investigating prosecutors mapped out the history of Gana's case using a succession of memos between Lynn, Molloy, Bevilacqua and Cullen himself. Gana remained pastor of Our Mother of Sorrows parish in Bridgeport, Montgomery County, until 1995, when a second victim, a 32-year-old man, came forward and alleged that Gana had abused him for six years starting when he was 11.

Grilling Cullen on his oversight of Lynn, Assistant District Attorney William Spade said, "In other words, he had a priest that had credible allegations of abusing an 11-year-old boy, having anal sex with an 11-year-old boy. He didn't investigate. He got a direct order from the cardinal, his boss, to investigate that priest, and presumably, the reasoning behind the order was, we want to find out whether he's doing this to any kids now so that we can protect these kids.

"Three years pass and it comes to light that he hasn't done that investigation, and now another victim of this priest, Gana, comes out of the woodwork, so to speak. At that point, don't you think to yourself: I got to get this guy out of this position. He's not doing a good job?" Spade asked.

"It would to me, yes. But I — I don't recall the situation. That's the problem," Cullen replied.

"And you don't recall why [Lynn] wasn't fired from that position?" Spade asked.

"I don't recall even dealing with this case. That's my concern." Cullen said.

The second victim reported that in addition to himself, Gana had sex with four other boys, including the victim who came forward in 1991. When the second victim discovered Gana was having sex with another boy, Gana took both boys to bed at the same time, according to documents presented to the grand jury.

"So there are a total of five boys being abused, and to sort of gild the lily, he's got two of the boys in bed with him at one time?" Spade asked Cullen.

"Outrageous," Cullen replied.

"Right. And again, this is not something that you remember being reported to you?" Spade asked.

"That's what I — this is really — I can't — I can't get a handle on this," Cullen said.

Asked by a grand juror to grade his performance overseeing Lynn, Molloy and others responsible for investigating allegations of abuse, in particular Gana's case, Cullen said the nature of his job forced him to delegate.

"So you understand my role as a vicar general was handling a diocese, as I said in the beginning, of almost a million and a half people, 365 parishes, hospitals, and 100,000 kids in school. This is a case that was done with a specialty, and when I look back now, I'm sad that it, you know, that it was — that it fell through the cracks."

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  • By Matt Assad and Peter Hall, Of The Morning Call
    published this page in News Story of the Day 2011-09-12 09:30:00 -0500

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