Bishop Robert J. Cunningham offered the following comments on the movie “Spotlight,” releasing in theaters this month.
Last week, the movie “Spotlight” was released in select movie theaters across the United States. The movie focuses on The Boston Globe’s investigation of the scandal of child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston that ignited national news coverage of the Church’s handling of child sexual abuse by clergy. I have not yet seen the movie but have read a number of good reviews from the Vatican to The New York Times and even from two members of our diocesan staff who attended a screening.
The movie reviews I have read are similar in their praise of the accurate and fair depiction of this story. It could easily have sensationalized the crisis but did not. It told the story through the lens of the investigative team who did not know the extent of what they were unraveling and ended up putting pieces together to tell a story that shocked society and the entire Catholic Church.
It may seem unlikely that I as Bishop of Syracuse would be grateful for this story, but I am. I have often said but it bears repeating that the Catholic Church mishandled the issue of clergy sexual abuse. Children were harmed, families were devastated and the faithful, for the most part, were left in the dark. The Boston Globe’s coverage allowed the Church to see the issue as a whole, not solely on a diocesan level. Most dioceses experienced situations of child sexual abuse, but not every diocese, thankfully, treated the issue the same. In having the “spotlight” turned on this crisis forced the Church to look at it systemically and to take action that would require education, training and accountability.
Since 2002, dioceses across the country, including the Diocese of Syracuse, have adopted and implemented the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. In the Diocese of Syracuse, there is no clergy in active ministry with a credible allegation of abuse. I am grateful that over 35,000 clergy, religious, employees and volunteers have completed prevention training and criminal background checks. This past year alone, over 27,000 children in our faith formation classes and Catholic schools have completed training on ways to keep safe from adult predators.
I am also pleased that our relationship with law enforcement is stronger than ever. The Diocese of Syracuse and the local authorities have had a verbal agreement since 2003 about allegations of abuse, reporting all cases that were actionable. This month, after a year of conversations, all seven District Attorneys and I signed a written Memorandum of Understanding that continues our spirit of cooperation and outlines a consistent set of reporting procedures, including those allegations involving deceased priests and allegations that are decades old. 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. It is a difficult balance that I must try to maintain. The District Attorney’s Office has the names and the allegations of those accused.
As you know there have been stories in some news outlets reporting about a petition to have me resign due to a poor choice of words during a deposition I gave in 2011. Let me be clear and state again on the record, I do not believe nor have I ever believed a child is responsible for being abused. A priest or any other adult who abuses a child or youth is wrong. I apologize that my words caused pain to any victim of sexual abuse.
The movie “Spotlight” reminds us that the Catholic Church is a human institution which made a series of very harmful mistakes — mistakes that I hope are not repeated throughout society. There is a line in the movie attributed to the character portrayed by Stanley Tucci, who says, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse a child.” We in the Church have learned a great deal from this awful point in our history, implementing strong policies and procedures to keep our children safe and to assist victims through spiritual and therapeutic counseling for their healing.
“Spotlight” no doubt will be difficult to watch but it is an important story to be told. You have my personal pledge to continue to follow the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. I ask you to please join me in our efforts to ensure that no child is placed in harm’s way in our diocese.