Bishop Cunningham clarifies remarks about victims of sexual abuse by priests

The Syracuse diocese responds to criticism of statements in a 2011 deposition

Syracuse - Bishop Robert Cunningham is clarifying his views on victims who were abused as children by catholic priests.

The bishop released a long statement on Sunday, responding to an article on the front page of the Post-Standard with the headline: Bishop: Priests' Victims Share Blame.

"Allow me to be clear: I in no way believe a child is responsible for being abused by any person," Cunningham stated. "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 defense comes in response to reporter John O'Brien's review of a 2011 deposition, filed as part of a federal lawsuit accusing a priest in the Syracuse diocese of sexually abusing a man when he was a child.

Initially, it appears that the questioning was general, not in reference to a specific case.

Cunningham is quoted as saying "The boy is culpable", in response to a question about whether the church feels a child has committed sin if they have been molested by a priest. He's then quoted asking if the child did "go along with (it) in any way".

"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," Cunningham explained in his statement this weekend. "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."

When the questions focus on a specific case, the debate seems to turn to semantics - how each side interprets words like "accomplice" and whether the term carries the same meaning under canon law.

The article states that, in transcripts from 2011, Cunningham suggested the diocese would see it as wrong for a child to confess to their abuser because "The priest does not have the ability to absolve an accomplice in a sin such as this."

The bishop apparently went on to say that "the priest is clearly wrong" and later adds, "Certainly, I don't think there would be culpability, but I mean, I can't make that judgment."

Today, Cunningham admits that he wishes he phrased his response differently.

"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," he states.

He also repeatedly reiterates that he doesn't believe children are responsible for being abused.

Victims of childhood sexual abuse told the Post-Standard they will host a meeting on Monday to start a petition as they push for the ability to prosecute priests beyond the statutes of limitation.

Cunningham wraps up his statement on Sunday addressing criticism.

"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," he writes. "It is a painful reality but one I cannot change."

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