I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…
I’ve flown into Syracuse more summers than I can remember with my children, when through the woods to grandmother’s house we’d go. There’s a Catholic bishop there who believes — though after exposure of his belief now prudently denies it — that other parents’ children who were raped by his priests might at least have been partly to blame.
In deposition testimony, Bishop Robert Cunningham declared of each of those children, perhaps inartfully, “the boy is culpable,” and an accomplice in his own rape.
That caused a lot of outrage in Syracuse, though to be fair mostly from people who had never raped anyone. Mr. Cunningham (he doesn’t really deserve to be called bishop anymore) said he was misunderstood, that of course the priests were wrong for what they did, but that “accomplice” and “culpable” mean different things under Catholic canon than they do under legal theory.
He’s partly right, while managing at the same time to be totally wrong. The Catholic Encyclopedia says there are two kinds of accomplice: formal and material. The formal accomplice is the kid who says to the priest who is raping him, yeah, let’s do this. Cunningham says he meant the other kind of accomplice, the material accomplice, who’s the kid that’s just there but wishes he weren’t. That kind of accomplice corresponds to the legal concept of proximate cause, best explained by an old law professor of mine using the example of my jaw being the proximate cause of his fist slamming into it. Couldn’t have happened if my jaw hadn’t been in the way.
Those boys couldn’t have been raped if they hadn’t been alone with the priests. That’s what the good bishop meant by “accomplice.”
“Culpable” doesn’t work out as neatly, unfortunately for Cunningham. In Catholic canon, just like in legal theory, by golly, “culpable” involves being responsible for the bad thing that happened. “It inherently implies,” according to the Canon Law Centre, “moral guilt or willful wrongdoing.”
One of those boys raped by more than one of Cunningham’s priests somehow can’t buy his explanation, and I’m inclined to agree.
Kevin Braney, who now lives in my part of the country, thinks a man, who imputes responsibility to altar boys raped in the church by their priests, isn’t fit to be Bishop. He wants the Pope to remove Cunningham.
The Vatican already believes that what Braney said happened to him, did happen. Last year Monsignor Charles Eckermann, then 83, was removed from his ministry and ordered to spend the rest of his life in prayer. I thought that was what priests did anyway, but never mind that.
Back then, Eckermann told a Syracuse reporter Braney’s name “doesn’t ring any bells right now.” So many children, so little time.
There are other names that do ring bells, names of other priests in the Syracuse diocese who the Vatican has confirmed raped children of their flock. Braney says Cunningham continues to protect these priests by refusing to release their names.
Braney first turned to the church for help when he was fifteen. He told another priest what Father Eckermann had done to him. The priest slapped his face and told him never to say another word about it. For many years, Braney never did.
His petition to the Pope, to remove Cunningham as Bishop of Syracuse, is here.
It’s his response to another slap, the pain of which he can no longer bear in private.