When I was preparing to take Sister Lucy Vasquez’s O.P. deposition this past June, I didn’t expect to find what I unearthed, namely, her connection to the widely publicized Philadelphia Grand Jury Report. The Report detailed the abuse and subsequent cover-up of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Lynne Abraham, the courageous Philadelphia District Attorney who led the investigation was not able to indict anyone for their crimes because the statute of limitations had expired.
In the Report, Rev. Stanley Gana is listed as one of the worst sexual abusers in the Archdiocese. 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.
The Report notes that in 1996 Gana left a treatment facility in Canada and flew to Orlando. Within a few weeks of his arrival in Orlando, concerned parishioners notified their pastor, Fr. Andrew O’Reilly about Gana. While it’s not clear that the parishioners knew of Gana’s troubles in Philadelphia, they were concerned that he was living with teenage boys in a private residence. O’Reilly notified the Chancellor of the Diocese of Orlando, Sister Lucy Vasquez who in turn called her counterpart in Philadelphia. According to the Grand Jury Report, “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.” In her deposition testimony, Sister Lucy didn’t recall Fr. Gana or any discussions with anyone in Philadelphia about the incident, in spite of the fact that she was in charge of such matters at the time. Furthermore, according to her deposition testimony, she didn’t make any notes, prepare any correspondence, or inform local authorities about the issue.
According to an article in today’s Orlando Sentinel, Gana was not the only Philly priest who landed in the Orlando area after being accused of multiple counts of sexual abuse of minors. Rev. Nicholas Cudema, a former Philadelphia priest who is now 70, was described by a clergy superior as “one of the sickest people I ever knew” in Grand Jury Report. He has owned a house in southwest Orange County since 1989 but is not currently ministering here, Cudemo said this month. The Orlando Sentinel article does not clarify whether or not Cudemo was ever given permission to minister as a priest in Orlando. However, the Grand Jury Report states that Cudemo himself told an abuse victim that he had received permission from the Diocese of Orlando to celebrate mass and perform the sacraments. This occurred in the 1990’s and begs the question, why didn’t Sister Lucy or any other Orlando diocesan official ask for Cudemo’s file? Apparently, he showed up in Orlando with a “retired priest in good standing letter” from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and that’s all the Diocese of Orlando needed to accept him as a priest. It would be hard to argue that Orlando didn’t know about priests and sex abuse in the 1990’s since the Gilbert Gauthe tragedy had already occurred in the 1980’s.
If the lawsuit in Orlando had not been able to proceed to the discovery phase, the public and faithful Catholics would never have known they have two sexually abusive priests in their backyard. While the Diocese of Orlando maintains it complies with the law and collaborates in helping protect children, these are clearly two instances when the protection of children was not paramount. Once again, it seems as if what Sister Lucy told her colleague in Philadelphia remains most important, we “don’t want any adverse publicity.”