Cunningham Says Diocese Covering up Failure to Report

By Laura Frank
The Tennessean
January 5, 2003

Mark Cunningham says Nashville diocese officials aren't telling the truth when they deny he reported that former priest and principal Ron Dickman molested Cunningham's brother as a student. And he thinks he knows why.

"They have to tell this lie to cover up another lie," he said.

Cunningham contends that diocese officials should have forwarded his 1991 molestation complaint to state officials. State law requires anyone with information about possible child sex abuse to contact police or the state Department of Children's Services.

Diocese officials have repeatedly said they reported all allegations of child sex abuse to civil authorities, as the law requires.

And when prosecutors asked diocese officials in 1999 if the church had ever received allegations of child sex abuse against Dickman, church leaders said they had not.

But Cunningham says they should have told prosecutors about his complaint.

"I know it was clear to them in 1991 that I had said Dickman's sexual contact with my brother started when he was in high school," Cunningham said. "Plus, they told me it wasn't the first complaint - that he'd been removed from Father Ryan (High School) because of it."

Diocese officials say the priest to whom Cunningham made his complaint has no recollection of any mention that Cunningham's brother was in high school when the alleged sexual contact began.

Cunningham says he thinks diocese officials won't now publicly acknowledge his 1991 allegation because it could get them into trouble with authorities. He says they also may fear the issue could hurt them in an unrelated lawsuit now under appeal. Attorneys for alleged victims of another former priest have tried to show the diocese had a pattern of not reporting child molesters.

In May 1999, the Davidson County District Attorney General's office was conducting an inquiry into possible child sex abuse by Dickman.

Diocese attorney Gino Marchetti wrote to the prosecutor's office that, regarding Dickman, the diocese had no names of any alleged victims and no record of any "inappropriate touching." And therefore, Marchetti wrote, the diocese had never reported Dickman to the state Department of Children's Services.

"In addition to reviewing the records once more," Marchetti wrote, "I asked anyone who I thought would have any knowledge of Ron Dickman, and none of them were aware of any report or allegation against Ron Dickman regarding any inappropriate behavior with a minor."

However, in a telephone conversation that Cunningham tape-recorded in November between himself and Marchetti, Marchetti appeared to take credit for trying to steer prosecutors toward Dickman's past.

During the conversation, Cunningham was upset that church officials would not publicly acknowledge that they had removed Dickman after Cunningham's complaint. At one point, Cunningham told Marchetti that church leaders were going to have to decide if they were going to tell the truth or continue to "back Dickman."

Marchetti responded: "Nobody's backing up Dickman. I can absolutely 100% guarantee you nobody is backing up Dickman. I mean, I'm the one that said, 'Hey, D.A., here's a file you need to look at' and we gave it to them. We could have gone, you know, for privilege and all that other good stuff."

Marchetti apparently was referring to documents the diocese turned over to the district attorney's office in 1999 after a grand jury issued a subpoena for information.

Marchetti did not grant Tennessean requests for an interview but issued a statement through the diocese spokesman, who said "any inference that this conversation confirms an allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor is simply incorrect."

When asked why the diocese would consider information it had about Dickman to be something a prosecutor investigating child sex abuse would "need to look at," neither Marchetti nor diocese officials responded.

"It's a shame to have to tape-record somebody over something like this," Cunningham said.

"But look at what I've been through. If this is how they treat me, no wonder victims don't come forward."

Diocese statement

The Nashville Catholic Diocese released this statement Dec. 13:

In an effort to spare the Cunningham family any additional pain stemming from the death of their son in 1991, the diocese and Father Charley Giacosa have declined to comment on the contents of a conversation between Mark Cunningham and Father Giacosa shortly before Ron Dickman left the priesthood. The diocese has acknowledged that the conversation took place, and that several months later Dickman left the ministry on December 1, 1991. However, with written permission of Mark Cunningham, provided earlier this week, the diocese releases the following statement from Father Giacosa:

Mark Cunningham did meet with me to complain about a sexual relationship between his brother, John Cunningham Jr., and Ron Dickman shortly before his brother died of AIDS in September of 1991. Mark was certainly very angry, and much of what I did was listen to what he had to say. Mark told me that John Jr. had told him about a recent sexual encounter between himself and Ron Dickman. This was the first time that I had become aware of a sexual relationship between Ron Dickman and John Cunningham Jr. I have no recollection whatsoever of Mark Cunningham telling me of abuse involving his brother while in high school. I was very surprised and angered myself, to see comments published in The Tennessean several weeks ago that claimed I had been told that Ron Dickman abused John Cunningham Jr. while he was a student at Father Ryan High School.


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