Bishop Cullen at Center of Archdiocese Inquiry
His role in the Philadelphia church sex scandal is detailed in the grand jury's report.

By Dan Sheehan and Matt Assad
The Morning Call [Allentown PA]
September 23, 2005

The portrayal of Allentown Bishop Edward P. Cullen in a Philadelphia grand jury's scathing report on the clergy sex abuse scandal details episodes of bureaucratic blindness and inexplicable leniency during his tenure as a top administrator in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

The Cullen of those days stands in sharp contrast to the efficient, zero-tolerance prelate who allowed unfettered scrutiny by the five district attorneys in the Allentown Diocese after the scandal erupted nationally in 2002.

In one section of the 423-page report, Cullen, who was the chief aide to retired Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, laments that abusive priests are able to escape prosecution because too much time has passed. ''I think it would be good for society if they had no statute of limitations,'' he told the grand jury, which spent three years examining the archdiocese's handling of abuse cases.

Read the entire grand jury report on the sexual abuse of minors by clergy

Elsewhere in the report, however, Cullen is portrayed as perpetuating an unwritten policy of obfuscation and excuse-peddling in dealing with sexually abusive priests. Despite his comments on the statute of limitations, he acknowledged that the passage of time was sometimes a deciding factor for the archdiocese in deciding whether allegations against a priest were credible.

According to the report released Wednesday, Cullen scolded a subordinate for telling a victim he believed her story. In another case, he reportedly viewed one priest's horrific record of serial molesting as ''a PR [public relations] concern,'' according to an aide. The grand jury cited that remark as emblematic of the skewed priorities governing archdiocesan actions.

Among the episodes cited to show how loosely rules were enforced during Cullen's tenure: A priest with a decades-long history of aberrant behavior — including a criminal conviction for possessing a $15,000 cache of pornography, including child porn — helped celebrate Cullen's 1994 ordination Mass as auxiliary bishop in Philadelphia.

At the time, the priest, Edward M. DePaoli, was supposed to be restricted to celebrating Mass privately ''for his own spiritual benefit.'' The restriction resulted from behavior that included telling schoolchildren at a Mass that he wanted to imagine one of the girls naked from the waist up.

37 references to Cullen

The abuse scandal in the Catholic Church exploded in early 2002 when evidence emerged that, over the course of decades, thousands of priests and other clergy accused of abuse had been shuffled from parish to parish instead of being criminally charged.

In the Allentown Diocese, the Lehigh County district attorney's office investigated 23 cases of alleged sexual abuse by priests and found none that could be prosecuted. No grand jury was convened. Elsewhere in the diocese, the district attorneys in Berks, Carbon, Northampton and Schuylkill counties reviewed dozens of sexual abuse cases and concluded that the allegations were too old to prosecute.

Nonetheless, 11 current and former priests from the Allentown Diocese have been targeted in civil lawsuits claiming abuse.

Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham formed the grand jury three years ago. The jury's report concludes that Bevilacqua and his predecessor, Cardinal John Krol, covered up abuse by failing to report it to civil authorities and quietly transferring offenders to new assignments far enough away that their reputations wouldn't follow.

According to the report, the prelates were more interested in heading off scandal and liability than in helping victims.

In a 69-page rebuttal Wednesday, archdiocesan attorneys called the report a ''vile, mean-spirited diatribe'' that unfairly attacked Bevilacqua and the church.

Cullen, who was vicar of administration under Bevilacqua and became Allentown bishop in 1998, is mentioned in the report 37 times.

The grand jury found that in 1989, Cullen dismissed allegations of sexual relationships involving the Rev. Nicholas Cudemo, who was subsequently assigned as pastor of King of Peace parish in Philadelphia. Cudemo was accused of having relationships with girls in 1966, 1969 and 1977.

According to the report, Cudemo would again be reassigned, in 1991, to St. Callistus parish in Philadelphia after allegations arose that he was close to a King of Peace parish woman and was molesting her 13-year-old daughter.

The report also says that Cullen:

Confirmed that the secretary for clergy could assign a priest with a background of abuse of minors as long as there was no definitive proof, or the priest was deemed ''rehabilitated'' by archdiocese standards, or the allegations were old enough, such as the 1966, 1969 and 1977 allegations of abuse against Cudemo.


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