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  Nurse Testifies Priest Raped Her in Rectory

By Andy Newman
The New York Times [Brooklyn NY]
Downloaded June 06, 2003

In graphic detail, a registered nurse told jurors in a Brooklyn courtroom yesterday that a Roman Catholic priest invited her to a rectory in Bedford-Stuyvesant in 2000 to advise her about annulling her marriage, raped her on a couch and then blithely asked for a ride back to where he was staying.

The priest, Cyriacus Udegbulem, visiting from Nigeria, maintains that the sex was consensual, and during cross-examination, his lawyer asked the woman why she had passed up several chances to leave the rectory at Our Lady of Charity Roman Catholic Church as Father Udegbulem's touches grew more sexual.

Over and over, the woman, a eucharistic minister herself, gave the same response. "He was a priest," she said. "I trusted him."

Father Udegbulem, 39, who is charged with rape and sodomy, is the second priest from the Diocese of Brooklyn to be prosecuted on old abuse complaints that the diocese agreed to turn over to the district attorney's office last year. The first, Father Francis X. Nelson, was sentenced to four months in jail in March for molesting a 12-year-old altar girl at her home in 1999.

Father Udegbulem was dismissed by the diocese a few weeks after the incident, and when he told officials he was returning to Nigeria, they let the matter drop. Instead, he went to Laredo, Tex., where he worked as a hospital chaplain and part-time church priest until his arrest last year.

In late 1999, Father Udegbulem was assigned to St. Matthew's Church in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where the woman, who is in her 30's, was a parishioner. She had been divorced for a year but wanted to have her marriage religiously annulled, she testified yesterday in Brooklyn Criminal Court.

She said that Father Udegbulem befriended her and told her he knew officials who could help her get the annulment. Around Christmastime, she said, he called her and invited her to visit him on New Year's Day at Our Lady of Charity, a much smaller church where he also filled in and where he would be saying New Year's Eve Mass the night before.

The woman gave this account of New Year's morning: She went to Our Lady of Charity's rectory on Dean Street, where Father Udegbulem greeted her with a hug, then kissed her on the mouth. Alarmed, she pulled away, but Father Udegbulem immediately apologized, and she was mollified. They went upstairs to an office with a couch and a desk. They sat on the couch. She told him of her turbulent marriage to an abusive husband. He turned toward her, reached across her and touched her arm in what she said was a comforting way.

When Father Udegbulem put his hand up her shirt, however, the woman jumped up and backed toward the door. She asked him to return her coat. He dragged her into the bathroom and told her to look at herself in the mirror and see how pale and upset she looked, according to her account.

Father Udegbulem, about a foot taller than the woman and athletically built, led her back to the office and pinned her hands behind her back. She begged him to stop, she said.

"Did he say anything?" Heide Mason, an assistant district attorney asked.

"He just smiled at me," the woman said.

Father Udegbulem, she said, pulled her down onto his lap on the couch, and said, "I want you to be my baby."

"My mind went crazy," the woman said. "Priests don't do things like that." He flipped her onto her back on the couch, she said. He tore her jeans, panties and sneakers off in one yank, performed oral sex on her, then raped her while holding her down, she testified.

Afterward, the woman said, "I became very mechanical." She said she put her clothes on and went downstairs, and that Father Udegbulem followed her to her car and asked for a ride to the St. Matthew's rectory. He got in when her electric key unlocked the car doors. She added that she obeyed his request to drop him off a block away so that he would not be seen leaving her car. She went home, she said, and took a 90-minute hot shower. "I was trying to wash him away," she said. "Wash him off. Wash him out."

On cross-examination, Father Udegbulem's lawyer, George B. Lewis, asked the woman why she had chosen to consult with Father Udegbulem rather than the head parish priest. Mr. Lewis asked questions implying that their relationship before New Year's Day was closer than she was letting on. Mostly, though, he asked her why she did not flee the rectory when she could. "I trusted him," the woman said. "He was a priest. I was giving him the benefit of the doubt."

 
 

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