Defrocked Priest Performs Baptism
By Kera Ritter
Philadelphia Inquirer [Philadelphia PA]
October 17, 2005
A former priest accused of sexually abusing more than a dozen girls while serving in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia performed a baptism in Haddonfield in the summer, weeks after he had been defrocked.
Camden diocesan officials confirmed yesterday that Nicholas V. Cudemo performed the baptism July 10 at Christ the King Church at a family's request.
The Rev. Joseph D. Wallace said he was unaware Cudemo had been laicized, meaning he was no longer a priest, until a church deacon saw the name in the baptism registry a week later and alerted him.
Tom Hafner, the deacon, recognized the name because his brother-in-law had been assigned with Cudemo in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
"It's an unfortunate incident," Wallace said. "He was in and out of the church in half an hour. He wasn't around any other parishioners or children."
Wallace made an announcement about the incident during church service yesterday, calling the priest "one of the offenders, and one of the worst ones, to be honest." Wallace did not identify the priest by name during service but confirmed it was Cudemo afterward.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, Cudemo maintained sexual relationships with girls from the Catholic schools where he taught, molested a fifth grader in the confessional, invoked God to seduce and shame his victims, and once took an 11-year-old he raped for an abortion, according to the grand-jury report released last month by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.
He was defrocked in June 2005.
It is not clear whether the family that requested Cudemo knew the extent of the allegations at the time of the baptism. They had been friends with Cudemo for years, and he had maintained to them that he was innocent, Wallace said. The family, whom Wallace declined to name, was very apologetic, he said.
Camden diocesan spokesman Andrew Walton said there has been a long-standing policy requiring priests from outside the parish to have a certificate of suitability, showing that the priest is eligible to perform religious duties. Cudemo would not have received such a letter, Walton said.
"It was completely inappropriate for him to have presided at that baptism," Walton said. "He did not have permission from anyone in the Camden Diocese to perform this ceremony."
Wallace said that he was unaware of the policy but would be more vigilant in the future. He said he did not believe the policy would discourage priests from performing ceremonies outside the parish.
"If you're a priest in good standing, it shouldn't bother you in the least that we do these checks," Wallace said.
Although Cudemo was not authorized to act as a priest, the baptism is still valid because it meets the three required criteria, Walton said. Cudemo used the proper matter, water and oil; the proper form in reciting the rite of baptism; and had the proper intent that the child be baptized.
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