Acknowledging painful past events, Bishop calls for continued vigilance

“Together we cannot change the past, but we must learn from it,” Syracuse Bishop Robert J. Cunningham wrote in a letter shared with the people of the diocese Dec. 11. “These are difficult days and will be as we move forward, but join me in finding hope that we are on the right path.”

   Bishop Cunningham issued his letter, printed in full below, and an accompanying video message, available at www.thecatholicsun.com, following the publication of what he termed “a very difficult article in the Syracuse Newspapers regarding Charles Eckermann, the Syracuse Police Department and the diocese.”

   Msgr. Charles Eckermann, 83, was removed from priestly ministry in October 2013 as part of a diocesan investigation in compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People; the Vatican upheld the determination of credibility of the allegations in September 2014. Eckermann is no longer able to function as a priest, wear clerical garb or present himself as a priest.

   Allegations of abuse were brought forward in 2013 by Kevin Braney, 41, who said that he was sexually abused by Eckermann as a teen.

   According to the Dec. 11 article, police raised other concerns to the diocese about Eckermann in 1984.

   “I am grateful for the information that has surfaced,” Bishop Cunningham wrote in his letter. “Although the news is painful and sorrowful for all of us to hear, it is important to learn so that this type of situation never happens again.”

   In an interview with the Sun Dec. 12, Bishop Cunningham said he issued his letter and video because he “wanted to talk to the people of the diocese who, whenever these incidents occur, feel a sense of hurt.”

   Underlining statements made in both the letter and the video, Bishop Cunningham emphasized that there is no one in active ministry in the diocese who has a credible allegation of abuse of a minor. He also called on all people to speak up if they know of or suspect abuse.

   “Through our safe environment training, we know that we all play a role in the safety of children and must not turn a blind eye to inappropriate behavior. We must remain vigilant in our efforts,” he wrote in his letter.

   Bishop Cunningham also said he is reviewing current diocesan policies regarding the public release of names of individuals against whom allegations of abuse have been found credible.

   Current diocesan policy is to confirm publicly the name of the accused after it has been made known by the individual who made the allegation. This policy, Bishop Cunningham explained, reflects the fact that some survivors have asked that the names of the accused be made public while others have asked the opposite, and is an effort to respect the rights of the individuals involved. He said he has not yet decided if he will make any changes and that he will continue to review the current policy “in consultation with representative groups of people, the diocesan Review Board principally.”

   The full text of Bishop Cunningham’s letter can also be found at
www.syrdio.org and the video can be found at www.youtube.com/user/syrdio.

   The diocese does not tolerate sexual misconduct, assault or exploitation by priests, deacons, diocesan lay employees, volunteers, or members of a diocesan community in any form. To report known or suspected abuse, contact law enforcement and the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator at (315) 470-1465. For more information about the process of reporting abuse in the diocese, visit www.thecatholicsun.com.

 

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