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  Predator Priest Makes a Return
Baptism by Defrocked Cleric Renews Calls for Database

By Jeff Diamant
The Star-Ledger [New Jersey]
October 23, 2005

Amid all the disturbing tales of priests being charged with sexually abusing minors, stories about Nicholas Cudemo stand out.

When a grand jury released its report last month on clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, it revealed Cudemo had been accused of abusing 16 minors, raping an 11-year-old and helping her get an abortion.

He was laicized -- formally dismissed from the clergy -- in June after four decades as a priest in eastern Pennsylvania.

Despite that Vatican action, which was publicized, Cudemo presided in July at a baptism at Christ the King Church in Haddonfield, Camden County, where the resident priest did not know his status.

This disclosure, made in the church last week by the Rev. Joseph Wallace of Christ the King, has spurred renewed calls from victims' advocates to develop a national database of abusers.

"Time and time again, proven abusive priests have resurfaced in coaching, in teaching jobs ... in positions of access to kids," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, a victims group. "Prospective employers, police, concerned parents need to have a centralized reliable place they can turn to check the history of a retired priest who moved next door or offered to tutor in their school."

A national database of clergy abusers has been a frequent demand of victims groups since revelations in 2002 that many bishops shielded abusive priests from prosecutors and let them minister in new parishes without alerting churchgoers to their deeds.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has examined the possibility, but has so far hasn't acted.

"There are a lot of practical and legal problems with (a database)," said Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, spokesman for the bishops conference. "There's been a number of people who've been accused of things, but there's never been any criminal process that proved them guilty. They may have been removed because the accusations were believed by the church, but they never were found guilty by any civil legal process and they deny that they engaged in this conduct. So what do you do?"

'VERY UNFORTUNATE'

Church reforms from 2002 mandated that priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors be permanently removed from ministry, but not all dioceses publicize these findings.

Earlier this year, the Rev. Gerald Ruane, banned by the Newark Archdiocese from presenting himself in public as a priest after allegations of sex abuse, concelebrated Mass at a shrine in Stirling, in Morris County. The priest at the shrine said he did not know Ruane had been banned and would not have let him concelebrate if he had.

Last month, the Philadelphia grand jury report outlined the case of the Rev. Raymond Leneweaver, whose sexual abuse of boys in the 1960s and 1970s was well known by the archdiocese decades ago but who landed jobs teaching Latin at area public schools as late as 2004.

The Philadelphia grand jury's report said Cudemo, ordained in 1963, was described by a top aide to former Philadelphia Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua as "one of (the) sickest people I ever knew."

The report said he molested a fifth-grader in the confessional and had sexual relationships with several girls from the Catholic school where he taught.

Cudemo, whose laicization was reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer in June, was able to preside at the July 10 baptism in Haddonfield for a friend because Wallace didn't follow diocese policy to confirm Cudemo was in good standing, Wallace acknowledged.

He was in and out of the church in half an hour without incident, Wallace said, but two weeks later a deacon recognized his name in the baptism registry. The deacon, whose brother worked with Cudemo as a Philadelphia Archdiocese priest, notified Wallace, who then contacted the Camden and Philadelphia dioceses.

"It's an isolated incident but a very unfortunate one," Wallace said. "Obviously, Mr. Cudemo misled the family and misled the parish and really made a mockery of the sacrament by presiding."

Clohessy faulted the church.

"The issue here is not the Philadelphia priest -- he's just doing what predators always do," Clohessy said. "The issue is the Jersey priest. ... Policies are meaningless without enforcement."

Cudemo, reached by telephone at his home in Orlando, referred a reporter to a personal friend in Connecticut, who said the former priest would not comment.
 
 

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