SYRACUSE Monsignor Removed from Ministry over Decades-old Child-molesting Accusation
By John O'Brien
October 2, 2014
Kevin.jpg Kevin Braney in the backyard of the home he grew up in on Stanwood Lane, Manlius, this is where he said he sought refuge as a child growing up. Photo taken June 2, 2014. (Michael Greenlar | firstname.lastname@example.org)
A child-molesting accusation against a Catholic monsignor and former Bishop Ludden High School principal is credible, the Vatican notified the Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese today.
The Syracuse Diocese in April removed Monsignor Charles Eckermann from ministry after determining the recently disclosed accusation from a former altar boy from 25 years ago to be credible, a diocese official confirmed today.
|Monsignor Charles Eckermann in 1984|
The Vatican upheld that finding today, said Danielle Cummings, a spokeswoman for the diocese.
"Charles Eckermann will no longer be able to function as a priest, wear clerical garb or be presented as a priest," she said of Eckermann, who also served as Syracuse's school board president decades ago.
The victim, Kevin Braney, said Eckermann raped him more than a dozen times in a basement storage room in the rectory at St. Ann's Church in Manlius in 1988 and 1989, when Braney was 15 and 16 years old.
Braney, a school district administrator in Boulder, Colo., said another priest, the Rev. James Quinn, raped him in the rectory of St. Ann's once in 1989. Quinn died last year. He had been publicly accused in an unrelated case from the 1960s, but the diocese cleared him in 2004 of those allegations.
The diocese was unable to determine whether Braney's allegations against Quinn were credible because he wasn't assigned to that church and because he's deceased, Cummings said.
The Vatican ordered Eckermann to a life of prayer and penance for what he'd done, Cummings said.
Another man came forward in 2002 with sexual abuse allegations against Eckermann, Cummings said. But that accuser later changed his statement and would not cooperate, she said.
"There was absolutely nothing we could do," Cummings said.
Eckermann, 83, would not comment when contacted Wednesday by a reporter with Syracuse.com and The Post-Standard.
"I'm sorry, I can't talk to you about anything," he said. "I better check in with my lawyer and the diocese." He would not disclose his lawyer's name.
Eckermann did say that Braney's name "doesn't ring any bells right now."
The credible finding came 12 years after a national scandal enveloped the Catholic Church over priests molesting children. In the two years after the scandal began in January 2002, the Syracuse Diocese removed 20 priests from the ministry because of sexual abuse allegations.
Braney, now 41, first notified the diocese in February 2013.
He said he wants the church to do more, including making its findings public. That's how the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester handles cases in which a credible finding of sexual abuse against a priest has been made.
In those cases, the Rochester Diocese publishes the names of the accused priests on its web site. The Syracuse Diocese does not publish the names of any accused priests, even after the allegations have been found to be credible.
"It's a double violation of trust when the church knows something and then elects not to share it," Braney said. The church's lack of transparency was one reason Braney decided to come forward and allow Syracuse.com and The Post-Standard to publish his story with his name.
Cummings said each diocese handles such cases differently. The Syracuse diocese doesn't make the findings public because some victims want the matter handled without publicizing the name of the priest, she said.
Braney said he urged Syracuse Bishop Robert Cunningham to change the policy when they met four months ago. The bishop told him he was aware of Rochester's policy, Braney said.
"The matter that you brought to my attention will be given careful thought - anything that we can do to reach out pastorally to people according to their own desires is something that we always consider," Cunningham said in a handwritten note to Braney the day after their meeting.
Braney and his mother met with the bishop June 2 at the chancery in Syracuse. Cunningham apologized without saying specifically why he was sorry, Braney and his mother said.
"He said, 'I'm sorry this happened to you,'" Braney said. "That meant something. It was very heartfelt."
The diocese has paid Braney $20,000 for medical expenses and treatment he's undergone because of the abuse, he said.
After he came forward, it took too long - many months - before the church agreed to pay for Braney's therapy or show any remorse, he said.
Cummings said diocese officials have been in contact with Braney and his family "throughout the whole process." The diocese has paid $7,705 directly to Braney's treatment providers and $13,259 to Braney to reimburse him for his therapy expenses, she said.
"When a person comes forward with an allegation, the Office of Victim Assistance works with the individual, explains the process and immediately offers to reimburse for 6 initial sessions of therapy and counseling," Cummings said. "This was done with Kevin."
Braney said that when he was 15, he told another priest about the abuse. That priest slapped Braney in the face and told him to never say another word about it, Braney said.
Eckermann started as pastor at St. Ann's in May 1988. He had been the diocese's director of development and planning for two years before that.
Eckermann was a member of the Syracuse school district's board of education, including a term as president, according to newspaper archives. In the 1970s, he was appointed to the Regents Review Board of the state Board of Regents. He was a teacher and principal at Bishop Ludden High School from 1963 to 1976.
Before he went to St. Ann's, Eckermann was an associate pastor at St. Brigid and St. Joseph parish in Syracuse and St. Cecilia parish in Solvay, according to newspaper archives. He was also pastor of St. John the Baptist parish in Syracuse and St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Binghamton.
Pope Paul VI designated Eckermann a monsignor in 1973. He retired in 2001.
In 2012, Braney started recovering memories of the abuse that he'd repressed for years, he said. The memories surfaced while he was working with students who were themselves victims of abuse, he said.
His first memory was of the window in the storage room, he said. Then other memories came back slowly, he said. After six to eight months of therapy, he recalled all of it, Braney said.
"It was in a room by a furnace," he told Syracuse.com. "My memory is of a mattress there, in a room where nobody would realistically go to or be found in."
Eckermann initiated the contact by playing with the rope that was cinched around Braney's altar boy gown, Braney said. That led to Eckermann telling him to go to the basement of the rectory to get supplies, Braney said.
"At first it was, 'This guy is great - he's asking us to do stuff and help out,'" Braney said. "Then I just found myself cornered in that room and the door locked."
Eckermann raped Braney 12 to 15 times there, and warned him not to tell anyone, Braney said. Eckermann threatened to kill him, Braney said.
"I don't know exactly what he said," he said. "I just remember being in so much fear that you couldn't move and you couldn't think."
Braney was in therapy over the recovered memories when he arrived home one night in March 2013 to find that his estranged wife had moved his belongings out of their bedroom and into another room, according to police reports.
His then-wife told Boulder police Braney had damaged property and yelled at her, the police report said. He was charged with criminal mischief for damaging the property and domestic violence with the intent to annoy and inconvenience.
Braney told the investigators that he was under stress because of the recovered memories of sexual abuse, the report said.
"I am finally getting the help I need to address what occurred to me as an altar boy in the Catholic Church," Braney wrote in statement to Boulder police.
The officers urged him to contact police or prosecutors in the Syracuse area, he said.
Braney then contacted the Onondaga County District Attorney's Office, which launched an investigation, he said.
The accusations were beyond the statute of limitations for anyone to be charged with a crime, Braney said.
The allegations were also too old for Braney to file a lawsuit, he said.
Contact John O'Brien at email@example.com or 315-470-2187.