Catholic Bishop Robert Cunningham, the current leader of the Diocese of Syracuse, is experiencing a new round of fire from a Change.org petition asking for his removal from office.
Cunningham made headlines earlier this month when a 2011 deposition surfaced in which he seemed to blame child sex victims for their abuse at the hands of Catholic priests.
According to the Syracuse website, Cunningham’s remarks came in response to a federal lawsuit from a man claiming to have been sexually abused as a child by a priest at the Syracuse diocese.
When the man’s lawyer asked Bishop Robert Cunningham if the child had sinned in his molestation, he called the child “culpable,” or responsible for his part in the incident.
The Bishop did ease those statements a bit later in the deposition when he said that without knowing the particulars, “did the boy encourage, go along with [it] in any way?”
The man’s lawyer asked for “any circumstance” when a 14- or 15-year-old boy could be responsible for a sexual incident between himself and a priest.
“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.”
But if an abused boy wanted to confess the incident, added attorney Raymond Schlather, could Bishop Robert Cunningham tell him he did nothing wrong?
“I do not know whether I would say that,” he said.
The transcript, taken on Oct. 14, 2011, forced a “clarification from Cunningham earlier this month when he said that “no child is responsible” for being a victim of sexual abuse.
That hasn’t slowed the onslaught. Kevin Braney, one of the Syracuse victims, sent his and friend Charles Bailey’s petition to media outlets on Wednesday evening (Sept. 30). The petition was launched two days ago.
In the letter, Braney says that he and Bailey “are just two of many men who were sexually assaulted as young boys by Catholic Priests in the Syracuse Diocese.”
“Bishop Robert Cunningham knows that the Vatican has credible allegations of sexual abuse against these priests, yet he refuses to reveal the identity of known child molester priests and is allowing them to live in the Syracuse community.”
Braney also claims that Cunningham “has even allowed accused priests from other dioceses to relocate and live in Syracuse without any supervision and without being reported to law enforcement.”
The letter also states that accused priests from Baltimore were brought in to the Syracuse diocese in 2004 and that other priests, including “one in 2014 living at the Tommy Coyne Residence for Priests in Syracuse have been arrested and convicted for possession of child pornography.”
Braney and Bailey’s petition is hoping that the Bishop will resign and said they are “calling on Pope Francis to remove Bishop Cunningham from his leadership position and to appoint a new Bishop who can rebuild the trust that Bishop Cunningham has shattered.”
Pope Francis did speak out on the child sex abuse scandals during his recent trip to the United States, but it’s unclear what action that has resulted in at this time.
He did say that God “weeps” over child sexual abuse and that “careful oversight” would be forthcoming to ensure the safety of young people and the accountability of their abusers.
“The people who had the responsibility to take care of these tender ones violated that trust and caused them great pain,” Francis said in comments reported by CNN.
“Those who have survived this abuse have become true heralds of mercy. Humbly we owe each of them our gratitude for their great value, as they have had to suffer terrible abuse, sexual abuse of minors.”
Braney and Bailey haven’t said whether that response is enough but judging from the petition’s continued support — from both them and their close to 7,500 supporters — it isn’t likely that anything short of the resignation of Bishop Robert Cunningham would suffice.
What do you think, readers? Should the Bishop step down, and if the other allegations about cover-ups are true, would you say he needs to face criminal charges? Sound off in the comments section.
[Image of Bishop Robert Cunningham via Change.org petition, linked above; the rest from Diocese of Syracuse]