Bishop on release of accused priests: "We are committed to restoring faith"

Bishop Cunningham says he grappled with whether to release the list. Some victims, he says, wanted the names of their abusers made public. Others, he says, wanted to keep those names hidden (CNYCentral)

The leader of the Diocese of Syracuse hopes Monday's release of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors will begin a healing process for the victims and parishoners.

"We're sorry that this happened within the church and we hope that all members of the church will move forward together in making sure that something like this never happens again," said Bishop Robert Cunningham.

There are 57 names, once highly regarded, trusted leaders of Catholic parishes. They are priests who, the Syracuse Diocese now says, preyed on people who turned to them in prayer and ended up shattering their lives.

"We want to say to the victims of abuse that we're very very sorry that anything like this happened to them," Bishop Cunningham said. "We love them. We continue to support them. We pray for them."

Bishop Cunningham says he grappled with whether to release the list. Some victims, he says, wanted the names of their abusers made public. Others, he says, wanted to keep those names hidden.

"For the good of the church, for the good of people, for the good of victims many of whom wanted the names out there. We thought it was the right move to make," Bishop Cunningham said.

The list includes allegations from the last 70 years against 38 deceased priests and 19 who are still alive. For example, Father Albert Proud served in parishes in Liverpool, Jordan and Clinton. He was removed from the ministry because, the diocese says, he molested a child in the 1970's. Charles Sewall, who is now dead, served as principal of a Utica Catholic high school. The diocese says he exchanged free tuition for sex.

"A lot of people have had their trust terribly diminished and that is a slow process to try to rebuild it and it's nothing that's going to happen today or tomorrow or next week," said Bishop Cunningham. "It's just slow, steady assurance of what the church is, what the church is about."

The diocese says prosecutors previously had these names, but amid a State Attorney General's Office investigation, the diocese was forced to go back through their files. The AG issued subpoenas to every diocese in the state as part of a larger investigation into possible allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

"There's a certain amount of angry emotion, disappointment, discouragement, frustration, confusion," said the Bishop about his own feelings about the accusations. "And so it's at those moments that I go back and say the church remains the mother and teacher, how are we going to handle this?"

SEE ALSO | Victim advocate: Releasing names of accused priests good start, but more needs to be done

The Bishop calls the tragic failings of the Catholic Church deeply disturbing, and says he is committed to restoring faith and trust. He points to efforts the Diocese has taken in recent years to create a safer environment including training, education and criminal background checks for clergy, support services for abuse victims and a review board to oversee investigations into abuse allegations.

"We've made a lot of progress. We're not perfect. We can always improve, but we're doing a pretty good job right now of that," the Bishop said. "And I think our schools and parishes and churches and institutions are very safe places for young people and for all people."

Bishop Cunningham says he is unaware of any new allegations coming to light after the release of the names of the predator priests, but he welcomes people to come forward if they were abused and insists people should feel safe in Catholic churches and schools. "As far as I know, there is no priest who has a credible allegation of abuse that in active ministry in the Diocese of Syracuse," the Bishop said.

64 people sexually abused by clergy in the Syracuse Diocese plan to take settlements from the Catholic Church. The Bishop says he expects that compensation program to wrap up by the end of the year.

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