|Priests' Troubled Pasts LED Here
By Mark I. Pinsky
August 13, 2007
Florida — A defrocked priest described in a Philadelphia grand-jury report as a man of "unrelenting depravity" for his sexual abuse of children lives in Central Florida.
He can reside here without registering as a sex offender because the statute of limitations ran out and he was never charged criminally.
Nicholas Cudemo, a former Philadelphia priest who is now 70, was described by a clergy superior as "one of the sickest people I ever knew" in a 2005 Philadelphia grand-jury report on clergy sex abuse. He has owned a house in southwest Orange County since 1989 but is not currently ministering here, Cudemo said this month.
The grand-jury probe — a three-year investigation that did not result in indictments — found that Cudemo's dozen documented victims included an 11-year-old girl he raped and took to have an abortion when she was a teenager. Cudemo also was accused of molesting a fifth-grade girl in the confessional and facilitating a gang rape with other priests.
The report said Cudemo — and dozens of other priests — could not be criminally charged because the statute of limitations had run out. "Unfortunately, the law currently stands in the way of justice for the victims of childhood sexual abuse," it said.
Another defrocked Philadelphia priest accused of molesting seven boys while on a trip to Walt Disney World in the 1980s stirred concern in an Orange County community where he owned a home from 1993 to 1999. As recently as 2006, Stanley Gana, now 64, spent nine months in Orlando with a longtime friend who was unaware of the grand jury's findings.
Gana's ties to Florida emerged in June, in a deposition connected to a civil suit against the Diocese of Orlando.
Over time, the U.S. church has paid an estimated $2 billion to settle clergy-abuse litigation. Since 1968 when the Diocese of Orlando was formed, more than a dozen priests have been accused of sexually abusing minors, and the diocese has paid at least $5 million to victims.
Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski said in a written statement: "The Diocese of Orlando cooperates fully with law enforcement to aggressively safeguard vulnerable populations when presented with any allegation of abuse."
Some within the Catholic Church maintain that not enough has been done to protect the public from abusive priests.
"When they're not charged criminally, there's no way to get them on a sex-offenders list or registry," said the Rev. Tom Doyle, a Catholic priest and co-author of Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000-Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse. "What you're dealing with here is an issue of public safety and the safety of children."
Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, author of Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, suggests the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops create a registry that lists, by diocese, the estimated 700 priests who have been removed from ministry after charges of sexual abuse or impropriety, and include their last-known addresses.
"A lot of them are getting retirement checks, so the church should know where they are," said Frawley-O'Dea, a Charlotte, N.C., psychologist and trauma specialist.
Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger, of Evansville, Ind., suggested just such a registry at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas in 2002. But the proposal went nowhere.
A long history
Both Cudemo and Gana have a long history in Central Florida.
Cudemo began bringing girls and young women to Florida for extended vacations in the late 1970s, according to the grand-jury report.
An accumulation of sexual-misconduct accusations and at least one civil suit, alleging that he sexually abused a young female relative, prompted Philadelphia church officials to remove him from active ministry in the early 1990s. In 1994, the priest asked the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to reinstate him so he could minister in Central Florida, where he was spending more time.
In early 1995, the archdiocese turned him down, "at least until the resolution of civil litigation."
The civil litigation was dropped because the statute of limitations had run out, according to the grand-jury report. Cudemo was briefly reinstated but within months new abuse charges were made, and he was forced into retirement in June 1996.
With a certificate of "good standing" from the Philadelphia archdiocese, Cudemo was free to act as any retired priest in Florida. On Feb. 12, 1999, Cudemo wrote the vicar of priests in the Diocese of Orlando, requesting permission to minister here.
The Diocese of Orlando said it has no record or recollection of Cudemo's request, but, according to the Philadelphia grand-jury report, church officials here "had been reluctant to allow the priest to minister in that diocese."
In response, Cudemo wrote: "Father, there is something that puzzles me. I have served for 21/2 years since being reinstated and continue to service in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (and in some cases in the very area where my accusers reside) . . ."
Cudemo was ultimately defrocked in March 2005, six months before the grand jury's findings were released.
Reached by telephone this month, Cudemo said he is not currently engaged in ministry and spends most of his time caring for two aged relatives. "That's all I have to say," he said.
Accumulation of charges
Gana, according to a Pennsylvania grand-jury report, raped and "sexually abused countless boys in a succession of Philadelphia Archdiocese parishes" starting in the 1970s and continuing through the 1990s.
After an accumulation of charges and several transfers to unsuspecting parishes, Gana began treatment Feb. 4, 1996, at a church-affiliated, sexual-abuse facility in Toronto. A month later, Gana walked away from the facility, took a taxi to the airport and flew to Orlando, according to the grand-jury report.
Within two weeks of his arrival here, Sister Lucy Vazquez, then serving as chancellor of the Orlando Diocese, heard that Gana's presence in a west Orange County neighborhood was raising concerns, documents in the grand-jury report show. His neighbors on Calathea Drive called their priest, the Rev. Andrew O'Reilly, to report that a visiting priest from Philadelphia was living with a group of older teenage boys and young men.
On March 16, Vazquez called Monsignor Michael McCulken of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, according to a memo McCulken wrote at the time, which was included in the grand-jury transcript.
"Sister Lucy noted that the diocese had recently experienced some cases of sexual abuse that were highly publicized and they were sensitive about such issues. They do not want any adverse publicity," McCulken's memo said.
McCulken told Vazquez that Gana had resigned from his parish, gone to the hospital and then left the hospital without permission. However, McCulken's memo did not say whether he informed Vazquez of the charges of sexual abuse made against Gana.
Vazquez denied any memory of the incident during a sworn deposition in an unrelated case. She said there were no files or documents at the diocese that would clarify the issue.
"I do not remember this call," she said in the June deposition in Orlando. "But we would always, if there was a credible allegation of child sexual abuse, we would report it to law enforcement . . ."
Bishop Wenski said in the situation involving Stanley Gana in 1996, "we had no knowledge of an allegation of any wrongdoing or sexual misconduct." He added there was nothing more the diocese could have done.
The Orange County Sheriff's Office has no record of any complaints or calls regarding Gana or his address in 1996.
Gana eventually was removed from active ministry in 2002, after the highly publicized Boston sex-abuse scandal. Under pressure in 2005, he agreed to live "a supervised life of prayer and penance" in Philadelphia.
Gana acknowledged to diocesan officials that he had paid a financial settlement to at least one of his victims, according to the report.
After his removal from the active priesthood, Gana returned to Central Florida. From November 2005 through July 2006, he stayed with a longtime friend, Judith Seaman, who lives on the edge of Pine Hills, in unincorporated Orange County. During that time he was officially defrocked.
Seaman said she knew nothing about the charges against Gana, and was shocked to hear them.
"There's no way I've seen any of that stuff," said Seaman, 66. "Absolutely none."
Mark I. Pinsky can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5589.
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