District Attorneys from Onondaga, Broome, Chenango, Cortland,Madison, Oneida and Oswego Counties joined Bishop Robert J. Cunningham of the Diocese of Syracuse at the signing of a “Memorandum of Understanding” press conference Oct. 28 at the George Harvey Justice Building in Binghamton. The memorandum, which was created in a joint effort between the diocese and the District Attorneys for the seven counties throughout this past year, formalized the procedures to be followed in all incidents involving alleged sexual misconduct and abuse of minors by all members of the clergy and religious in the Diocese of Syracuse, and builds on a verbal agreement that has been in place for approximately 12 years.
“Today is a good news story,” stated Bishop Cunningham. “In light of a few changes in our elected officials across the counties and a need to review and improve our procedures, we agreed it would be better to modify our agreement and put it in writing. This is truly in the spirit of cooperation and guided by one principle…to deal with this issue effectively and justly and most importantly, to make every effort to ensure that no child is harmed.”
The introduction of the memorandum states, “This is a working agreement between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse and the elected District Attorneys of seven (7) counties within the geographical jurisdiction of the Syracuse Diocese. The purpose of this document is to create and implement a consistent policy and reporting protocol with regard to sexual misconduct and abuse of minors by all members of the clergy and religious under the auspices of the Syracuse Diocese.”
There are five areas of terms and conditions of understanding in the memorandum. Part A states, “Whenever a complaint is received by a Diocesan official that a member of the clergy or religious, who is under the auspices of the diocese, has sexually abused a minor, regardless of the age of the incident, the complainant will be strongly urged to report the complaint immediately and directly to the appropriate District Attorney’s Office.”
In Part B, the document states, “When a Diocesan official has learned or has reason to suspect that a member of the clergy or religious, who is under the auspices of the diocese, has sexually abused a minor, the Diocese will immediately refer the matter to the appropriate District Attorney’s Office for investigation, regardless of the age of the allegation or whether or not the clergy member or religious is active.”
During the conference, Bishop Cunningham stated, “I acknowledge that the church and frankly society has not handled situations of child sexual abuse well in the past. We are a human church and a human society who make mistakes and it pains me to know our mistakes have caused people harm. Thankfully, there has been much improvement. We are proud of the ongoing education and prevention efforts in maintaining safe environments in the Diocese of Syracuse. Since 2003, over 35,000 people in our diocese including clergy, religious, employees and all those volunteers who work with children have been educated and trained in child abuse prevention and have completed criminal background checks. Today is a great step forward to further our collective efforts to eradicate this issue and to keep our children safe.”
Each of the District Attorneys from the seven counties signed the memorandum, in addition to Bishop Cunningham.
“We appreciate the efforts of Bishop Cunningham to formalize in this memorandum of understanding the policy and protocol for reporting these incidents to police and prosecutors for investigation from the first day a report is received by Diocesan officials,” stated the Honorable Gerald Mollen, District Attorney for Broome County. “We all expect this step to improve the confidence of the community in the outcome of these investigations.”
View the Memorandum of Understanding .