Did AF Academy Tip off Priest? Former Cadet's Lawyer Requests Investigation by Inspector General

By Erin Emery
Denver Post
May 2, 2000

The inspector general of the Air Force has been asked to investigate whether the Air Force Academy warned a Catholic priest that he was under investigation for allegedly having an improper sexual relationship with a former cadet.

Robert Cusick, the attorney for the former cadet, Maj. Susan Archibald, sent a letter Monday asking that the IG's office determine whether the Rev. Pat Nicholson, now a lieutenant colonel, was 'prematurely advised of the investigation, allowing him time to destroy incriminating documentary evidence and to contact likely witnesses.'

Archibald, 35, told the Air Force Academy on Nov. 8 that she had an inappropriate sexual relationship with Nicholson while she was a freshman cadet in the spring of 1984 and that the relationship resumed last summer. She decided to go public with her story last month, she said, because she wants the 'truth to come out.'

The academy will determine Nicholson's fate in two or three months. Officials will not comment on the allegations against Nicholson because of the federal Privacy Act.

'Interestingly,' Cusick said in the letter, 'he telephoned Maj. Archibald at her home the very day the academy decided to begin an investigation. Apparently, OSI (Office of Special Investigations) found no incriminating letters from other women in his quarters, even though Maj. Archibald had seen many and had been able to identify names in the letters to OSI.'

Cusick also wants the inspector general to examine whether an inquiry that led to Nicholson's endorsement by the Archdiocese for the Military Services was of the highest quality. To be a Catholic chaplain in the military, a priest has to have permission from his home diocese and an endorsement from the Archdiocese for the Military in Washington, D.C.

Nicholson, 54, left the active-duty Air Force in 1989 and returned to active duty in 1996 and to the academy in June 1999. While away from active duty, Nicholson spent time at a monastery in Ireland.

'While I greatly respect the military chaplaincy as an institution, the opportunity is manifest for a local ecclesiastical superior to send a problem cleric away from his home diocese to, for example, the military,' Cusick said in the letter. 'There is an obvious interest of the Air Force and of persons like academy cadets in seeing that its chaplains are morally and spiritually suited to such duty.'

The inspector general's office and Nicholson's attorney, Capt. Paul Hurcomb, declined comment Monday. The Archdiocese for the Military Services did not return numerous phone calls from The Post.

Archibald, now a reservist, said she was told that Nicholson had been offered and accepted an 'Article 15.' An Article 15 is an administrative regulation that covers broad range of violations and is not open to the public. If administrative action is taken, not even the Catholic Church will be notified.

'If an administrative action is taken, notification cannot be made due to the Privacy Act,' said Lou Timmons, a spokesman for the Air Force.


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