Family Files Civil Suit
Funeral Home Killings: The Family of One of the Victims Files Suit against Bishops across the Country
By John Hartzell
The Associated Press, ņarried in Duluth News Tribune
August 9, 2006
Milwaukee - The family of a man believed to have been killed by a Roman Catholic priest filed a civil suit Tuesday against almost 200 bishops across the country, seeking the disclosure of the names and locations of clergy accused of molesting children.
The suit was filed in St. Croix County, Wis., where a judge ruled in October that there was probable cause that the Rev. Ryan Erickson shot Daniel O'Connell and James Ellison at the O'Connell family's Hudson, Wis., funeral home.
In the suit, O'Connell's parents and three siblings asked for all documents from the bishops and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding molestation to be released to law enforcement.
"The bishops and the USCCB have established a policy of harboring and protecting suspected child molesting agents, thereby endangering numerous children throughout the United States," their complaint said.
O'Connell, 39, was shot and killed Feb. 5, 2002, at the Hudson funeral home, along with an employee, James Ellison, 22.
Erickson, 31, hanged himself in December 2004 in Hurley, Wis., just days after police questioned him in the slayings.
St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson has said evidence suggested O'Connell learned the priest was sexually abusing someone, was providing alcohol to minors, or both.
"He found out the priest was molesting children," Thomas O'Connell Jr., Daniel's brother, said Tuesday at a news conference announcing the suit, which was filed in St. Croix County.
"We're finishing a job Dan started," said Janet O'Connell, Daniel's mother.
The O'Connell and Ellison families met in November to talk about clergy sexual abuse with a representative of the bishop's conference in Washington and asked the bishops to arrange a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.
The two families also met in February with several Catholic officials in Hudson, including Bishop Raphael Fliss of the Superior diocese and the director of the bishop conference's office of children and youth protection.
Fliss's secretary, Pat Wildenberg, said the Superior bishop was out of town Tuesday and not immediately available for comment.
Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney representing the family, said a lack of action since then had prompted the O'Connells to go to court.
"They are here today because the bishops have turned their back on this issue and this family," he said. "Tell us exactly who the offenders are, dead or alive, and where they are."
Anderson said the family was not seeking monetary damages.
"We're not looking for money, we're looking for people," said Thomas O'Connell Sr., Daniel's father.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said 12 or 13 bishops have released partial lists of clergy sexual abusers, but many other names have not been disclosed around the country.
Monsignor Frank Maniscalco, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he was not familiar with the O'Connells' specific request about release of information, and had no immediate comment.
But he noted a conference representative had met with the family in Washington and Hudson. Maniscalco said the conference had policies calling for -- among other things -- the removal of any priests proven to have engaged in sexual abuse or admitting it. The policy also requires the passing along of reports on sex abuse to law enforcement.
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