All United States Bishops Served in Wisconsin Sex Abuse Lawsuit

By Sheri Baker-Rickman
Johnson County Sun [Kansas]
November 16, 2006

Two murders in St. Croix County, Wis., have led to all U.S. bishops being served and named as defendants in a civil child sex abuse lawsuit.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann, head of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, and Bishop Paul Coakley, head of the Salina Catholic Diocese, are included in the suit.

Filed in Wisconsin in August, the suit seeks no money but asks a state judge to force Catholic bishops nationwide to disclose the names of about 5,000 "proven, admitted and credibly accused abusive priests in the U.S."

The suit is brought by the family of Dan O'Connell, a Wisconsin man who died of a gunshot wound in February 2002 with co-worker James Ellison, also shot to death, at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home in Hudson, Wis.

A judge ruled that evidence showed Father Ryan Erickson of the Diocese of Superior in Wisconsin may have shot and killed O'Connell and Ellison.

O'Connell may have confronted Erickson with suspicions of child molestations before being murdered.

Erickson committed suicide after police questioned him about the murders.

The O'Connell family claims church officials knew Erickson had been twice accused of molesting boys six years before his ordainment as a priest in 2000.

The O'Connell family also claims the church knew Erickson had an interest in guns and child pornography.

The lawsuit asks the Catholic church to set up a national registry of abusive clerics and help reform state child sex abuse laws. The suit also seeks to establish a method to discipline bishops who ordain priests who may molest.

"Certainly, the bishops deeply sympathize with the families for the tragedy that has occurred," Kansas Archdiocese Communica-tions Director Carroll Macke said. "Representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have met with the families in Washington and in Wisconsin and have been in correspondence with them. The bishops have in place a comprehensive plan to protect children and young people which is being implemented throughout the United States."

Macke said the archdiocese has been proactive in protecting children.

"There has been a Child Protection Policy in place since 1991," he said. "It is reviewed and updated from time to time."

A program about how to identify warning signs of sexual misconduct and how to create a safe environment for children has been in place since 2003, Macke said, and more than 60,000 adults have completed the training. Background checks are also conducted on volunteers and employees, he said.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Web site, efforts to combat clergy sexual abuse of minors in the church have been ongoing since 1982.

"It is mandated that employees and volunteers be made aware of these standards and that those who are in contact with children receive continuing education about these matters," Macke said.

The O'Connell family has created a Web site,, and states that documented abuse problems in the Catholic church have existed since the 1950s and little has been done to address the issue.


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