Fifteen local priests were named in a grand jury indictment alleging sexual abuse of hundreds of children. Two of the accused, previously assigned to Stella Maris, remained in active ministry until last week.
The Rev. Robert Brennan, 67, is accused of molesting 20 boys.
The Rev. John H. Mulholland, 66, allegedly had a fetish for human feces and sadomasochism, with the latter detailed in letters to young boys, one of whom he nicknamed "Man of Steel."
Both served as assistant pastors at Stella Maris, 814 Bigler St., in the mid-1970s and late-1980s. And both were active priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese until Cardinal Justin Rigali relieved them of their assignments Sept. 25, days after a 418-page grand jury indictment identified Brennan and Mulholland among 63 priests accused of raping and molesting teenage boys and girls over three decades. The report also said there were more priests, as victims lodged complaints against 169 priests who had served in the archdiocese since 1967.
"Can you just imagine Jesus Christ condoning something like this? The Bible speaks of wolves in sheep's clothing, and if they [the priests] don't fit the description, I don't know what does," said Lucille Pandalino, a former Catholic who became a Jehovah's Witness in the 1950s.
Because the statute of limitations on child abuse has expired on these alleged crimes, the accused can not be tried.
Brennan and Mulholland were removed from their posts as chaplains at homes for the sick and elderly in West Chester and the Northeast, respectively. They were not defrocked, so technically they are still priests, said an archdiocese spokesperson.
The archdiocese released the following statement Sept. 26: "Rev. Robert L. Brennan and Rev. John H. Mulholland have been the focus of extraordinary attention. After the two priests were consulted, Cardinal Rigali has relieved them of their assignments. Until such time as a permanent, long-term plan can be determined, both priests will remain without assignments."
The archdiocese first learned of Mulholland's inclinations in 1968 when it received copies of a letter he sent to the boy he called "Man of Steel," the indictment said.
Over the next two decades, the archdiocese relocated Mulholland five times -- all to churches with schools, including Stella Maris.
In 2004, the Archdiocese Review Board cleared Mulholland of any allegations of sexual abuse and took no action against Brennan despite having written and oral documentation detailing complaints against both of them, the indictment said.
Prosecutors said the abuse was covered up by church leaders, including Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua and Cardinal John Krol, who relocated priests to other parishes and ignored documents that, in many cases, indicated abuse was going on.
"How can you teach the truth when you're a liar? Even the higher officials, they all knew it and denied it and moved the priests," Pandalino said.
In addition to Brennan and Mulholland, named in the indictment are 13 priests who served in South Philly churches, schools and medical centers from 1953 to 1996. This means a quarter of the accused had local ties.
Four of the priests taught at St. John Neumann, while another five were assigned to St. Monica, 1720 Ritner St.
The Rev. Nicholas V. Cudemo, the indictment said, raped an 11-year-old girl and later helped her get an abortion; he also molested a fifth-grader in a confessional. A top aide to Cardinal Bevilacqua told the grand jury Cudemo was "one of the sickest people I ever knew." Cudemo was assigned to St. Paul's Church, 808 Hutchinson St., and taught at St. John Neumann.
The Rev. Raymond O. Leneweaver, who was assigned to St. Monica, raped a boy and, when that boy's older brother tried to tell their parents about the abuse, their father beat him "unconscious" saying, "Priests don't do that," according to the indictment. In an act of retaliation, Leneweaver brutally raped the older brother, the indictment said.
Pandalino said she feels sorriest for the victims in these cases, many of who did speak up about the abuse when it was happening, but were not believed.
"I felt so bad, especially when some of the kids came home and told their parents and they were punished by their parents for something that was true. Where do these kids go? They are stuck in a school or church with these predators," Pandalino said.
Neither Monsignor James Connolly of Stella Maris nor the Rev. Joseph Kelly of St. Monica returned several calls for this story.
Along with Rev. Joseph Gallagher, the former pastor at St. Richard of Chichester, 18th and Pollock streets, a second priest with ties to the area was also named in the District Attorney’s Office Feb. 10 grand jury report.
The District Attorney’s Office released a grand jury report Feb. 10 that resulted in the arrests of three priests, a Catholic schoolteacher and the former Archdiocese of Philadelphia secretary of the clergy.
More than three years after his placement on administrative leave, a priest with ties to a Girard Estate parish can return to ministry.
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