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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
Contact staff writer Nancy Phillips at 215-854-2254 or [email protected],
or Maria Panaritis at 215-854-2759 or [email protected]
Staff writer David O'Reilly contributed to this article.