"One of the Sickest Individuals" Gets Away with It
By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
May 4, 2012
Father Louis DeSimone heard a commotion. When he went to investigate, he found Father Nicholas V. Cudemo "trying to calm a hysterical girl."
The girl left the church shouting that she loved Father Cudemo. When Father DeSimone asked what was going on, Father Cudemo explained that the girl had a crush on him.
The year was 1969, and the hysterical girl was one of the first victims mentioned in the secret archive files of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In court Thursday, Detective Joseph Walsh methodically read from the secret files the stories of 10 more victims of Father Cudemo, described memorably to a grand jury by the late Msgr. James E. Molloy, Cardinal Bevilacqua's former vicar for administration, as "one of the sickest individuals I ever knew."
Six months after the hysterical girl, church officials reported that Father Cudemo had a woman in his rectory room for half an hour with the door closed. When confronted, Father Cudemo claimed "he was not misbehaving."
In 1975, a woman wrote the archdiocese to tell them that Father Cudemo was having sex with a teenager "who may have been pregnant." The priest was reported to have taken the girl, just 13, on a vacation to Florida. The letter writer described the victim as "a beautiful simple girl, not bright," according to a memo in the secret archive files written by Father Francis J. Statkus, chancellor of the archdiocese.
When confronted by Statkus, Father Cudemo said the girl was a friend, but that there were "no sexual overtures" to their relationship. Father Cudemo admitted he was "attracted to younger girls," but said all he did was counsel them.
Father Cudemo claimed "he is faithful to his priestly obligations," Father Statkus wrote in the secret archive files.
Sadly, this pattern was reported again and again. And no matter how many victims came forward, Father Cudemo continued to lie to his bosses and get away with it.
In September 1991, three victims came forward to tell their stories to Msgr. Molloy, and his assistant, Father William J. Lynn. Two of the victims were related to Cudemo. They included a nun who was a cousin that Father Cudemo used to kiss passionately. "It's OK for cousins to be real close," Cudemo told her. Another time, while he was driving her home, the nun said, Father Cudemo took her hand and placed it on his penis.
The priest began abusing another cousin when she was 10 years old. The victim told the archdiocese that Father Cudemo was someone she thought "she could look up to and trust."
"He was extremely manipulative," the victim told Molloy and Lynn. "He had a violent temper." He would call the girl and tell her what to do on the phone while he masturbated. He started with kissing and fondling and then introduced the victim to oral sex. He would have her undress and then lay on top of her naked and "ejaculate all over her." "He would be forceful with her and hold her down," the files said.
The victim attempted suicide several times, and began to have seizures. "She stated she is petrified of him," Lynn wrote in the files. "She stated her life has been ruined." When she got married, and her husband tried to make love to her, "she wound up screaming."
When confronted by church officials, Father Cudemo denied most of the charges, except when asked if he had laid naked on the victim. "Possibly," he said.
"He had known lots of women," Father Cudemo told his inquisitors. He confessed to "some minor involvement," but stated that he never had oral sex or intercourse. As a celibate male, "he needed female companionship," he said. He was also a conspiracy theorist.
"A lot of people are out to get me in my life," Cudemo said. The priest told his inquisitors that he was "always afraid of women," although he "always wanted to be near them." He also claimed that all the alleged incidents happened 20 years ago.
"People are jealous of me," he said. The women involved wanted his affections, he claimed, and whatever he did, "he didn't hurt anybody." He said he wished he was a homosexual, because his life would have been easier.
In 1991, another victim who was a nun, called the archdiocese to complain. "He molested her," Lynn wrote about the nun in the secret archive files. On a trip to Florida, Father Cudemo took the victim's hand and placed it on his genitals, and asked her to "hold me."
"All she ever felt was shame about this, but now she feels anger," Lynn wrote.
In 1992, the cousin that Cudemo had begun abusing when she was 10 years old filed a lawsuit against the priest. Cudemo had gotten the victim pregnant as a teenager and paid for an abortion.
That same year the lawsuit was filed, Cudemo was placed on an administrative leave of absence and told to check into a hospital for treatment, but he refused. In 1993, Cardinal Bevilacqua restricted Cudemo's priestly faculties to just saying private Mass for his own benefit.
Other victims continued to come forward. In 1995, Father Cudemo was accused of sexually harassing a woman who was doing community service at St. Jude's in Chalfont.
The lawsuit filed against Father Cudemo by his cousin was withdrawn, however, in 1995 because the claim did not fall within the statute of limitations. The next year, 1996, Cardinal Bevilacqua began an administrative process to strip Cudemo of his priestly rank because of his "longstanding pattern of immoral behavior" and disobedience."
While he was on the witness stand Thursday, Detective Walsh read excerpts from 68 files into the record. But two documents were missing, psychological assessments of Father Cudemo supposedly done in the early 1990s by two different clinics.
In 1996, Cudemo's psychologist wrote to Msgr. Lynn that Father Cudemo was "not a pedophile," and "not a danger to anybody." The psychologist sought to lift all restrictions on Cudemo's ministry.
In 1996, Cardinal Bevilacqua accepted Father Cudemo's retirement, granting him a full pension and benefits. The following year, Msgr. Lynn wrote a letter to Cudemo certifying that he was a "retired priest in good standing in the archdiocese of Philadelphia." Lynn subsequently wrote Cudemo, telling him he could "help us out in the summer months" by working as a substitute priest.
In 2001, an 11th victim came forward and said she had been molested by Cudemo 20 years ago in the confessional, when she was a fifth and sixth grader. A police officer investigating the claim interviewed Msgr. Lynn, now on trial on charges of conspiring to endanger the welfare of children by allowing priests like Cudemo to remain active in ministry.
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington charged in court that Lynn had lied to the police officer, telling her that the victims who had come forward against Cudemo were all family members. Only 3 of the 11 were family members, Blessington said.
At the time, Cudemo was trying to become a minister in Florida, Blessington said.
Lynn told the police officer that Cudemo was not permitted to work as a minister in Florida, Blessington said, but failed to mention that at the time, Cudemo was permitted to work as a substitute priest in Philadelphia.
The trial resumes Monday, at 9:15 a.m. in Courtroom 304 of the Criminal Justice Center.