Church Defrocks 7 Local Priests
By David O'Reilly, Nancy Phillips and Jim Remsen
The dismissals of the Revs. James J. Brzyski, Nicholas V. Cudemo, Thomas J. Durkin, Michael W. Swierzy, Richard G. Jones, Thomas M. Kohler and Francis X. Trauger were announced in a spare notice on Page 8 of the archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Standard and Times.
The scope of the announcement was evident in the priests' biographies: Over the last four decades, they had served in some 35 parishes and five Catholic high schools across the Philadelphia region.
While the published notice began with the words, "in the spirit of transparency," archdiocesan officials provided no details of the abuse. The announcement did not use the word sexual in describing the accusations, saying only that the priests were defrocked for "misconduct involving minors."
The timing of the announcement also went unexplained. Church experts who have followed the scandal said that the Vatican is working its way through a backlog of decisions on as many as several hundred accused American priests, and that Pope John Paul II's death may have slowed the process.
All seven Philadelphia Archdiocese priests in yesterday's announcement had been removed from their ministerial duties here years ago. The Vatican's decision to laicize, or permanently remove them, means they are barred from ever serving as priests in any capacity and from administering sacraments.
Cardinal Justin Rigali declined to comment yesterday. Donna M. Farrell, spokeswoman for Rigali and the archdiocese, said the cardinal "does offer deep apologies to the victims of sexual abuse."
Farrell said she did not know whether the archdiocese had previously notified parishes of the allegations against the seven, except in the case of Trauger, who was removed from his duties in 2003.
Defrocking, or laicizing, is rare and is the most serious action the Roman Catholic Church can take against a priest.
"This is the equivalent of capital punishment," the Rev. Thomas Reese, a church commentator and authority on the abuse crisis, said yesterday. "It's as much as the church can do. We can't arrest anyone and put him in jail, and we don't have the Inquisition anymore."
The dismissals, which come as a Philadelphia grand jury is concluding its three-year-plus investigation of clergy sex abuse, bring to nine the number of archdiocese priests who have been defrocked as a result of the scandal.
Similar announcements have been made recently in other cities. The Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., said in January that eight of its priests had been defrocked by the Vatican. On June 9, the Archdiocese of Boston - where the child abuse scandal burst into public view in 2002 - announced that six of its priests had been defrocked.
Bill Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said yesterday that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican office, was handling a "backlog" of cases involving church requests to defrock American priests. Ryan said he had no information on how many had been removed from the priesthood and how many cases were pending.
Reese and the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer and prominent advocate for abuse victims, estimated that between 400 and 700 American priests' cases may be before the Vatican.
"They have been working through the cases as fast as they can, in a way that protects due process and the rights of the accused and the victim," Reese said. "It looks like they're processing them and communicating the decisions to dioceses now."
John Salveson, president of the Philadelphia area chapter of Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he welcomed the church's action but called it "too little, too late."
Diane Drinker of Montgomery County, who has said she was abused for years by one of the priests, Cudemo, beginning when she was 10, said yesterday: "I feel a sense of validation, but my personal struggle related to the pervasive effects of abuse is ongoing." She said the church should have removed the priests "decades ago."
Drinker, two of her cousins and a fourth woman have alleged that Cudemo, now 68, sexually assaulted them when they were young girls in the 1970s. Drinker and her cousins said they reported this to the church in 1991, but Cudemo stayed in ministry until 1996.
Cudemo has declined to comment. He did not return a reporter's phone call yesterday.
Based on interviews, court records and past news accounts, here is a summary of accusations against the other defrocked priests in yesterday's announcement:
Jones, 73, has been sued by a man who alleges that when he was 15, Jones abused him for three years. The suit claims Jones moved the boy into the priest's residence and presented him to others as his "adopted son." Jones was removed from active ministry in 1988.
Durkin, 67, allegedly molested two brothers and their sister when he was their priest at St. Charles Borromeo parish in Cornwells Heights in the 1960s. A second man has told authorities Durkin abused him at Holy Savior parish in Linwood, Delaware County, beginning when he was 8.
Swierzy, 56, was removed from ministry in 1997 after he was accused of kissing and taking to bed a teenage boy while he was a priest in Bucks County. In 1998, Swierzy pleaded guilty to a morals charge and was given five years' probation.
Kohler, 63, was accused in a lawsuit of abusing a Bucks County boy from 1973 to 1978 during trips to the Jersey Shore and elsewhere. The suit, filed in 1994, was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. The archdiocese removed him from active ministry that year.
Trauger, 59, was removed from ministry in 2003 after a private investigator hired by the archdiocese concluded he had abused children. In a suit filed against the archdiocese last year, Trauger was accused of abusing a boy at St. Leo's parish in Philadelphia. The suit contends church officials were put on notice about him in 1982 but let him remain in ministry.
Brzyski, 54, has been accused of abusing at least two boys, according to two people who are familiar with his tenure in the archdiocese but spoke on condition of anonymity. Details of those allegations could not be learned. Brzyski resigned from the archdiocese in 1984.
None of the defrocked priests could be reached for comment yesterday.
Three weeks ago, the archdiocese announced that the Rev. Martin J. Satchell and the Rev. Edward M. DePaoli had been defrocked. Satchell, accused of molesting a 14-year-old boy in the early 1990s, was quietly dismissed in 1993. DePaoli had been convicted of a child pornography charge in 1986, but was allowed to remain in limited ministry until 2002.
The church's spokeswoman, Farrell, declined yesterday to give a total of the number of priests removed by the archdiocese for sexually abusing minors.
The archdiocese encompasses the city and its Pennsylvania suburbs.
Previously, the archdiocese has said that 47 of its priests, living or dead, had been removed as a result of such allegations in the last half-century.
Contact staff writer Nancy Phillips at 215-854-2254 or email@example.com.
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