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Catholic Diocese of Syracuse signs agreement with DAs on how to handle sexual abuse cases

Ellen Abbott
WRVO file photo
Robert Cunningham, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse and seven district attorneys announced a new agreement on handling of sexual abuse cases Wednesday. The memorandum of understanding requires the diocese to report all abuse claims directly to the appropriate DA, whether they involve current or former clergy. Onondaga District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick introduced the agreement.

“There is no potential offender who is presenting any danger to any child in central New York,” he said.

Fitzpatrick says he knows this because the memorandum released Wednesday has been a verbal agreement for 12 years. The document requires the diocese to refer all allegations or suspected sexual abuse of a minor directly to the appropriate DA. The diocese will not conduct independent investigations, and will make an effort to preserve evidence. Fitzpatrick says that’s the way they have been working and that Bishop Robert Cunningham has always cooperated.

But the memorandum is a change from official diocese policy, last revised in 2007. It promises that allegations involving current diocese personal will be reported to law enforcement. It does not have a provision for cases where the alleged abuser is no longer in the church.

“That is a change to that extent,” says Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen. “All the past information and persons is now given to us.”

One thing has not changed, though: Bishop Cunningham still won’t budge on his refusal to release names of priests accused of abuse. The issue has been a flash point between Cunningham and some alleged abuse survivors. Last month Kevin Braney and another survivor started an online petition calling for the bishop’s removal from office because of his refusal.

“Children in our community are at risk because our leader is protecting pedophiles,” Braney said, “And these are known pedophiles with credible allegations of abuse.”

“There’s no priest in any type of ministry in the Diocese of Syracuse who has any type of credible allegation against him,” Cunningham said on Wednesday. He insisted that the church has removed clergy with credible allegations against them and said he has no plans to release the names.

Solvejg Wastvedt grew up in western Pennsylvania and graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Over the summer, she served in Los Angeles as an intern on NPR's National Desk. Plus, before coming to Upstate New York, Solvejg worked at the Minneapolis community radio station KFAI. When she isn't reporting the news, Solvejg enjoys running and exploring hiking trails.