How Silence Let Clergy Abuse Continue

By Craig R. McCoy, Nancy Phillips and Mark Fazlollah
Philadelphia Inquirer
September 14, 2005

For decades, as dozens of priests preyed on children throughout the Philadelphia Archdiocese, there was only silence.

For the victims, the consequences of this long embrace of secrecy were devastating - and, despite a series of church reforms, linger even now.

In at least four instances, an Inquirer review shows, church leaders quietly reassigned accused child abusers, who went on to victimize again - a pattern repeated in parishes all over the country.

"I was disgusted," said a former altar boy in Delaware County, who says he was abused by one of the alleged repeat offenders, the Rev. Joseph Gausch. "It was just too hideous to think that the church knew."

The years of silence gave a free pass to the predators, leaving almost all untouchable by police or civil courts.

Today, the Philadelphia Archdiocese, like others, has cracked down on sexual abuse.

But Cardinal Justin Rigali has declined to publicly name all abusers, to reveal the number of victims, or to discuss how the church came to give sanctuary to sexual abusers. He has declined repeated interview requests.

After three years of investigation, a Philadelphia grand jury is poised to issue an exhaustive report on the scandal. But the chilling extent of the abuse has become clear through an avalanche of lawsuits, a new willingness by victims to come forward, and a few bare-bones admissions by the church.

The record shows:

There were more than 50 abusers, stretching back to the 1940s. About half abused more than one child; one priest allegedly victimized at least 12. In all, there were more than 100 victims.

Children were assaulted in summer camps, Shore houses, schools, parish rectories, the seminary—even in churches themselves.

Abusers were in positions of power and trust. Six were principals of Catholic high schools.

The archdiocese for years enforced a rigid code of silence, keeping parishioners in the dark about predatory priests. "You're to keep your mouth shut," one priest was instructed by superiors.

After offenders left the church, the secrecy allowed some to resurface as teachers or in other jobs that put them in contact with children.

Even in the rare instances when priests were arrested, they went unpunished by their religious orders or church officials. In three cases, priests kept their collars after being charged with sex crimes.

No new charges

Drawing upon secret church files, as well as testimony from victims, top church officials, and abusing priests, the grand-jury report is said to be scorching in its language.

However, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham is not expected to bring a single new criminal charge.

The statute of limitations on the priests' crimes ran out long ago, and Abraham has decided not to seek a charge against the archdiocese itself, as prosecutors did in some other cities.

This infuriates critics.

"Mission accomplished. The church put a strategy together to keep them all out of jail," said John Salveson, a local leader of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"They should be congratulating themselves," he said.

The decades of silence have had another consequence: Victims, who often waited years to speak, have no recourse in the civil courts.

A slew of lawsuits against the archdiocese and its priests have been tossed out because Pennsylvania's seven-year statute of limitations had expired.

Thus far, the archdiocese says, it has paid out only $200,000 in settlements. By contrast, the Boston archdiocese has paid $85 million.

Most of the abuse in Philadelphia took place during the three decades that Cardinal John Krol headed the archdiocese, though some assaults took place during the tenure of his successor, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, according to lawsuits and interviews.

Bevilacqua cracked down after taking office in 1988. He imposed a policy of "restricted ministry," in which accused priests were assigned to nursing homes or other places with little access to children.


After the scandal broke nationwide in 2002, Philadelphia and other American dioceses made reforms.

In Philadelphia, the church created a special review board, assisted by a private investigator, to review complaints. It now tells police about all allegations of abuse.

But the secrecy persists.

Three dioceses - Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Tucson, Ariz. - posted the names of all accused priests on the Internet. Most, including Philadelphia, have balked at that kind of openness. Here, the church remains silent on many abuse cases and provides only sketchy information on others.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit weekly America, said a full accounting would help heal the damage. "One, you protect future children from being abused, and second, you encourage other victims of these priests to come forward," Reese said.

The Inquirer, through interviews, lawsuits and other documents, has identified 42 priests accused of being abusers in Philadelphia and its four suburban Pennsylvania counties. Investigators have identified more than a dozen others.

That total represents about 3 percent of priests who served in the archdiocese during those years, a number similar to national figures. A recent survey for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found that 4 percent of priests nationwide had been accused of abuse since 1950.

The Philadelphia abusers often culled their targets from fatherless or dysfunctional homes. They lured them with alcohol, candy, presents and trips, and muzzled them with threats.

Victims had nowhere to turn. Nicholas Siravo, now 59, says that when he was a high school sophomore and was abused by a priest, he went to another priest for help. That priest abused him as well, Siravo said.

Sometimes the abusers preyed on families. One Philadelphia priest is accused of abusing three brothers; another, two sets of sisters; a third, three girls, all cousins; a fourth, two brothers and a sister.

Victims like Pat McMenamin, 53, remain haunted.

As girls in Northeast Philadelphia, she and her sister shared a bed. They say Msgr. Philip J. Dowling would crawl in and assault them.

"I can still hear my sister's voice telling him to stop," McMenamin says.

After The Inquirer published the sisters' account this year, the archdiocese removed Dowling from ministry.

Repeat offenders

While the Philadelphia Archdiocese apparently harbored no one as monstrous as Boston's John Geoghan, who attacked as many as 130 children, it had serial predators of its own.

The Rev. James J. Brzyski has been accused of assaulting at least a dozen children, many from St. Cecilia's Parish in Fox Chase. He was defrocked in June.

"I don't have any religious beliefs anymore, because of what he did to me," said John Delaney, a onetime altar boy who says Brzyski raped him during the 1980s. "I have no faith in anything anymore."

The Inquirer incorrectly reported in previous articles that the grand jury had failed to find episodes in which priests abused children after the church had ignored earlier reports about them.

In fact, the grand jury has found a number of such cases. The Inquirer has been able to identify four:

The Rev. Nicholas V. Cudemo, accused of being among the worst predators. He allegedly assaulted eight girls during the 1960s and 1970s.

He served in seven parishes and taught at St. John Neumann, the former Archbishop Kennedy, and Cardinal Dougherty High Schools.

Accusers said the attack took place at rectories at SS. Cosmas and Damian in Conshohocken, St. Titus in Norristown, and St. Helena in Blue Bell, as well as in the Cardinal Dougherty sanctuary.

Among his alleged victims: three cousins, including one who said she was raped when she was 10. Cudemo, 69, who declined to comment, was defrocked this year. He lives in Orlando, Fla.

The Rev. Raymond O. Leneweaver, who taught at Cardinal O'Hara High and served in five parishes from 1962 to 1980. He was defrocked by the church two weeks ago for "sexual misconduct involving minors." The archdiocese provided no details.

He apparently left the church but worked briefly as a Latin teacher in Radnor and in Millville, N.J. Leneweaver, 71, of Villanova, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Rev. Stanley Gana, whose alleged abuses include the rape of a 13-year-old boy. The boy said the sex, which went on for a decade, began when he went to Gana for counseling after he was assaulted by a family friend.

Gana's assaults took place in the 1970s and 1980s in the church and rectory, on a trip to Walt Disney World, and at Gana's farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, two victims said.

The priest allegedly abused children from Our Lady of Calvary and Ascension of Our Lord, both in Philadelphia.

After the two accusers reported Gana's abuse to the church in the early 1990s, the church limited Gana to serving as a chaplain in a monastery. After the national scandal broke in 2002, the church dismissed him.

Gana, now 63, could not be reached for comment.

The Rev. Joseph Gausch, who allegedly assaulted more than seven children over four decades.

In an interview, a 55-year-old Delaware County man said his parents immediately reported the abuse to the church. The man, who also testified before the grand jury, said the assaults took place when he was a 13-year-old altar boy at Our Lady of Peace in Folsom.

Gausch masturbated him and forced him to touch the priest's genitals, sometimes in the sacristy, the room near the altar where robes are kept, the man said.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said prosecutors told him that he was not Gausch's first victim. Previous reports had come in the 1940s and 1950s, he was told.

After the 13-year-old's parents reported the abuse, in 1963 or 1964, Gausch was moved.

He went on to molest other children at three parishes during the 1980s - St. Bridget's in East Falls, Queen of the Universe in Levittown, and Good Shepherd in Southwest Philadelphia, lawsuits charge.

Gausch died in 1999 at age 83. The church declined to comment.

The man who was abused as a 13-year-old said he was appalled to learn that the church could have stopped Gausch before he molested him and other children.

"They repositioned him," the man said. "It just infuriates me that there were others."

Contact staff writer Craig R. McCoy at 215-854-4821 or