Bishop Robert J. Cunningham responded Nov. 6 to the creation of an online petition calling for his removal.
The change.org petition was started by Kevin Braney and Charles Bailey, both survivors of childhood sexual abuse by priests of the diocese, following the publication of portions of a deposition in which the bishop 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. To date, the petition has more than 85,000 signatures.
The full text of Bishop Cunningham’s response follows; it can also be found at thecatholicsun.com and syrdio.org. Bishop Cunningham also responded to the petition during the Catholic Women’s Conference in Syracuse Nov. 7. Video of his remarks can be found at youtube.com/user/syrdio and thecatholicsun.com.
“I have known about the petition that was created a few weeks back on Change.org. During last week’s press conference in Broome County with the seven county District Attorneys (watch the press conference on our YouTube channel) I was asked about the petition. I stated that ‘I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t hurt but I realize as the shepherd of the diocese, I am the one who will be most criticized when people are unhappy.’ I am aware that the majority of those who have signed the petition are not from the Diocese of Syracuse. I must also emphasize that the premise of the petition is absolutely false.
Allow me to again repeat that I do not believe children are in any way responsible for being abused. A priest or any other adult who abused a child or youth is wrong. I apologize for the words pulled from my 2011 deposition, understanding that my words caused harm to victims and the faithful. I deeply regret the choice of words and the context in which they were given as they do not represent my beliefs. As we approach the beginning of the Year of Mercy, I simply ask for your forgiveness.
These are difficult days for the Church and for me personally. Acknowledging that the Catholic Church did not handle the issue of child sexual abuse well is an understatement. Since 2002, the Diocese of Syracuse has aggressively dealt with this issue and it bears repeating that there are no clergy in active ministry with a credible allegation of abuse. The issue of releasing names will continue to be a point of contention as some victims wish to have the name of their offender released and others do not. I must honor the wishes of both. The District Attorney’s Office has the names and the allegations of those accused.
I would like to thank the over 35,000 clergy, religious, employees and volunteers in our diocese who have been trained in child sexual abuse prevention and completed criminal background checks. Since 2002, the Safe Environment program has become a model that should be repeated by all institution in society.
Lastly, I am grateful to all of you for your vigilance, prayers, support and commitment to keeping our children safe.”