Bishop: ‘No child is responsible for being abused’

“I in no way believe a child is responsible for being abused by any person. I also believe and have clearly stated that a priest who abuses a child is wrong as is any adult who takes advantage and harms a child,” Bishop Robert J. Cunningham wrote in a statement released Sept. 13.

   The statement came in response to the Syracuse Post-Standard’s front-page story of the same day, indicating the bishop said in a 2011 deposition that abuse victims are partly to blame for their abuse.

   The deposition, a portion of which was provided on syracuse.com, was taken as part of a lawsuit brought by a man who accused a priest of the diocese of abusing him as a child. In it, Bishop Cunningham is quoted as saying “The boy is culpable” in response to a question about Confession and whether a boy abused by a priest is considered by the Church to have committed a sin. Asked to elaborate, Bishop Cunningham said, “Well, I mean, without knowing the circumstances completely, did the boy encourage, go along with (it) in any way.” Then asked if a 14- or 15-year-old boy who is asked to perform a sexual act on a priest is somehow responsible for that act in the eyes of the Church, Bishop Cunningham said, “I would not — obviously, what the priest did was wrong. You’re asking me if the young man had any culpability, and I can’t judge that.”

   In his Sept. 13 statement, Bishop Cunningham said, “The article cites passages from a deposition in 2011. I tried my best to answer questions and I must admit gave responses that I wish were different. It saddens me to read the article and to realize that my words give the wrongful impression to victims, their families and the people of the diocese that I believe victims of abuse are at fault. There is nothing further from the truth. Victims of abuse are never at fault!”

   “The plain and simple fact is that depositions are difficult by their very nature. The line of questioning varied between specific and generic scenarios concerning the Sacrament of Confession. I was trying to explain that in general I do not know what is on the minds and hearts of individuals and failed to state clearly what I believe, particularly as it pertained to the case at hand. It is obvious that my choice of words should have been better. Bottom line is, I cannot go back and change my words but I can assure you that I did not believe the individual involved in the case was at fault. I clearly stated the priest was at fault. No child is responsible for being abused. A priest or any other adult who abuses a child is wrong,” the statement continues.

   Kevin Braney and Charles Bailey, both survivors of childhood sexual abuse by priests of the diocese, convened a community meeting in Fayetteville Sept. 14. Speaking to a crowd of some 70 people, both men shared their personal stories and called for changes in practices and policies in the local church. They have started an online petition, calling for Bishop Cunningham’s removal and for the public release of the names of all priests in the diocese against whom allegations of abuse have been found credible.

   The full text of Bishop Cunningham’s statement is below.


 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Many of you have awakened this morning to read an article in the Syracuse Newspapers stating that I blame victims for being sexually abused. Allow me to be clear: I in no way believe a child is responsible for being abused by any person. I also believe and have clearly stated that a priest who abuses a child is wrong as is any adult who takes advantage and harms a child.

The article cites passages from a deposition in 2011. I tried my best to answer questions and I must admit gave responses that I wish were different. It saddens me to read the article and to realize that my words give the wrongful impression to victims, their families and the people of the diocese that I believe victims of abuse are at fault. There is nothing further from the truth. Victims of abuse are never at fault!

The plain and simple fact is that depositions are difficult by their very nature. The line of questioning varied between specific and generic scenarios concerning the Sacrament of Confession. I was trying to explain that in general I do not know what is on the minds and hearts of individuals and failed to state clearly what I believe, particularly as it pertained to the case at hand. It is obvious that my choice of words should have been better.  Bottom line is, I cannot go back and change my words but I can assure you that I did not believe the individual involved in the case was at fault. I clearly stated the priest was at fault. No child is responsible for being abused. A priest or any other adult who abuses a child is wrong.

Child sexual abuse in the Church is painful for all of us. It never should have a place in our Church. However, we have and are continuing to address this issue with fervor. We are committed to ensuring that child sexual abuse does not happen in the Catholic Church and that all children remain safe. Since 2002, we have established a Diocesan Review Board made up of professionals who bring their skill set to assist in determining credibility of old allegations. Our diocesan policy mandates that all clergy, religious, employees and those volunteers whose ministry puts them in the presence of children complete a criminal background check and child and youth protection training. We also have an Office of Victim Assistance which serves as the point of contact for those who feel they have been harmed and serves as a liaison to assist in providing support for spiritual and emotional healing. It bears repeating from my other letters that there is no member of the clergy serving in the diocese who has a credible allegation of child sexual abuse.

I am aware that there are those who do not agree with decisions that I have made and those who will take these words as truth and those who will not. It is a painful reality but one I cannot change.

As your Bishop, you have my commitment that I will continue to do all I can to safeguard our children. I will continue to pray for the healing of those who have been harmed. May God continue to guide us through these difficult times and strengthen me to be the good shepherd you deserve in the Diocese of Syracuse.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse

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