Delaware Bishop Names Priests

By Meg Heaton
Hudson Star-Observer [Wisconsin]
November 29, 2006

"There's a hole in the dike now. Let's hope it keeps going."

That's how Tom O'Connell characterized the news last week that Delaware Bishop Michael Saltarelli would make public the names of 20 priests who have been found to have sexually abused children or who have admitted to sexual abuse.

The move was the first since the O'Connell family filed a lawsuit last August against the bishops of all 194 Catholic dioceses across the country demanding that the names of predatory priests be made public.

Attorney Jeff Anderson

Dan O'Connell and James Ellison were shot to death at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home in 2002. A St. Croix County judge found that there was probable cause to believe that the late Fr. Ryan Erickson committed the murders after he was confronted by Dan about the sexual abuse of minors. Erickson hung himself in December 2003 after being questioned by police about the murders.

In the months that followed Erickson's death, information surfaced that the Superior Diocese was aware of possible sexual abuse allegations and other problems in Erickson's past prior to and after his ordination.

In response to the findings, the O'Connell family asked the U.S. Catholic bishops to develop a concrete plan to address sexual abuse by priests. They filed the lawsuit when they felt the bishops were not addressing the problem.

In 2002 the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops said they had identified approximately 5,000 clergy who have abused or molested children and adults since the 1950s. The lawsuit seeks to make the names of these men, as well as their location, public.

Saltarelli was the first bishop to respond to the suit publicly. He published the names of priests in the Nov. 16 diocesan newsletter. The Wilmington Diocese covers all of Delaware and nine counties in Maryland. The bishop has also asked that Pope Benedict XVI remove the 20 men from the priesthood. Even before being served with the lawsuit, the Delaware bishop was under pressure from within his diocese of 220,000 to weed out abusive priests. Saltarelli wrote that he released the names "to help those hurt and prevent others from being victimized."

O'Connell said that has been the purpose of the lawsuit from the beginning. "We are not asking for money. It's about getting rid of those whose criminal acts put the most innocent among us at risk. I hope that other bishops will take his (Saltarelli's) lead and do the right thing."

The suit against Bishop Saltarelli will be dismissed, according to O'Connell attorney Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul. The family has written a letter to Saltarelli thanking him for his action.

"We are glad that you see the value in letting the public know about these dangerous men. We hope that other bishops will follow your example and release names within their own dioceses," said the family's letter.

Anderson said Tuesday that the next step in the lawsuit will be a scheduling conference before Judge Harrington in Shell Lake sometime in December. Anderson said several dioceses have asked that the suit be dismissed and for sanctions against Anderson, but he expects the suit to go forward. The judge will set a schedule to the motions and petitions to be heard.

Anderson said while he is pleased with Bishop Saltarelli's move, he isn't overly optimistic that it will inspire others to do the same. "We would like to see them break rank and ultimately do the right thing, but most probably won't. That's why it is so important what this family (O'Connell) is doing. It's shameful that they are the ones that have to do the work necessary to spare other families the pain of a tragedy like theirs."

For more information about the murders of Dan O'Connell and James Ellison, the lawsuit and efforts that can be made to address priest abuse, go online at


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