Lynn: Priest 'needed companionship'

Nicholas Cudemo.
Nicholas Cudemo.
Posted: May 05, 2012

Even when she finally spoke directly to church officials, the woman expressed doubt they would do anything about her cousin, the Rev. Nicholas V. Cudemo, who she said had molested her for years, beginning at age 10.

On this day, Sept. 28, 1991, she told the church officials “he bragged about it. He said he was called downtown [to the archdiocese offices] several times and told about his lifestyle and that nothing has been done about it.”

Nor, according to church memos recording his views, did Cudemo seem worried when he was called to the Archdiocesan Office for Clergy on Oct. 2, 1991, and confronted with sex-abuse allegations made by three female cousins and a half-dozen women who were not related.

“As a male celibate, he needs female companionship and friendship,” according to notes of the interview with Cudemo recorded by then-Rev. William J. Lynn.

That statement and others from church archives were read by prosecutors Thursday to the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury hearing the case against now-Msgr. Lynn. As secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004, Lynn, now 61, was the designated investigator of complaints of sexual misconduct against priests. In 1991, he was an assistant in the office, just months from being promoted.

Most of Cudemo’s alleged predations against at least 12 teenage girls occurred before Lynn’s tenure as secretary for clergy. Cudemo was ordained in 1963 and the first allegation against him — involving a junior at Lansdale Catholic High School — was in 1966 at his first post as assistant pastor at St. Stanislaus Parish in the Montgomery County community. Now 75, Cudemo was defrocked in 2005 and was last known to be living in Orlando.

Lynn, the first church official criminally charged in the archdiocesan sex-abuse scandal, is accused of conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children for allegedly enabling some deviate priests to be transferred to other parishes after being accused. Lynn has denied the charges and his lawyers have argued that he was the first church official here to try to stop the practice of transferring accused priests from parish to parish.

Judge M. Teresa Sarmina has permitted city prosecutors to introduce evidence that predates Lynn’s tenure as secretary of clergy to try to show that he perpetuated a church policy of protecting the church’s reputation at the expense of the victims of sexually abusive priests.

Thursday’s court session ended the sixth week of prosecution testimony. The trial resumes Monday at the Criminal Justice Center. Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington told Sarmina he expects the prosecution’s case to last two more weeks.

The records read to the jury by a detective questioned by Blessington showed that Cudemo repeatedly deflected complaints against him by denying sexual acts while admitting that he was “imprudent” and had let himself become too close to the girls. He regularly promised church officials that he would not do it again and escaped discipline.

“I’m attracted to young girls and I counsel them,” Cudemo is quoted as saying in a 1977 meeting after he was accused of having had sex with a teenage student while he was teaching at Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia.

By 1991, the excuses were sounding hollow. A 31-year-old woman who owned a Florida condominium with Cudemo wrote church officials that she had been in a relationship with the priest since she was 15. And then there were Cudemo’s female cousins, who accused Cudemo of fondling them when they were young and of assuring them, “It’s OK for cousins to be this close.”

The 1991 meeting with Cudemo at the Office for Clergy was followed a month later by an urgent letter the relatives sent to then-Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua: “We believe he has sexually and psychologically abused girls and young women for the past 20 years.” They also warned that Cudemo was “a present and real danger” to other girls and threatened a lawsuit.

Bevilacqua, through the assistant vicar for administration, Msgr. James Molloy, asked Cudemo to immediately step down as pastor at St. Callistus Parish in Overbrook until his psychological evaluation.

At the 1991 meeting where Cudemo was ordered to go into treatment, the priest wavered — argumentative and apologetic — but was ultimately unremorseful, according to the records.

He blamed the allegations on a group of enemies who are “out to get me” but also told the officials: “I’ve known lots of women and it always takes two to do these things. ... They were always more than willing.”

According to trial testimony, Cudemo later refused to undergo hospitalization, triggering a six-year battle of memos before the priest was forced to resign his pastorship and go into retirement.

Even then, Cudemo tried to circumvent restrictions on his ministerial abilities to celebrate Mass in other parishes and initiated an unsuccessful attempt to get his own parish in Orlando.

Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or follow him on Twitter @JoeSlobo.

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