Slain Man's Family Files Lawsuit against Diocese
Parents Say Son Would Be Alive If Church Had Acted
Associated Press, carried in Green Bay Press Gazette
December 13, 2006
Hudson — The family of one of two men believed killed by a Roman Catholic priest nearly four years ago filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Superior on Tuesday, claiming church leaders knew about the priest's questionable behavior but did nothing.
Carsten and Sally Ellison, of Barron, seek unspecified damages for the loss of their 22-year-old son, James, said their attorney Jeff Anderson.
"Their goal is to hold the diocese accountable," Anderson said.
If the Rev. Ryan Erickson had been removed from the priesthood or reported to police, "neither of these young men would have lost their life," he said.
James Ellison, an intern, and funeral director Daniel O'Connell, 39, were fatally shot Feb. 5, 2002, at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home in Hudson.
Erickson, 31, who had been a priest at St. Patrick's Church in Hurley, hanged himself in December 2004 while at a new assignment in Hurley, just days after police questioned him about the slayings.
In October 2005, St. Croix County Circuit Judge Eric Lundell reviewed evidence and heard testimony before ruling there was probable cause that Erickson shot the two men.
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.
Some church members have publicly wondered whether the killings could have been prevented had the diocese acted when parishioners complained about Erickson, who was ordained in 2000 and began his career at the Hudson church. Erickson drew criticism from some over his behavior and conservative religious views.
Anderson said Tuesday that Erickson demonstrated some "bizarre" behaviors, including sexual misconduct, that could have predicted eventual problems, and the diocese did nothing.
The lawsuit names Bishop Raphael Fliss as one of the defendants, Anderson said.
The Rev. Philip Heslin, a spokesman for the Superior Diocese, declined comment Tuesday until the diocese's attorneys reviewed the lawsuit. "We haven't been served yet," Heslin said.
In a meeting with about 700 people at St. Patrick's Catholic Church nearly a year ago, Fliss apologized for the way the diocese handled Erickson. The bishop said he was accountable for the "lack of proper supervision and for all else that I failed to see, heed and act upon."
The Ellison family is Lutheran. Dan O'Connell was Roman Catholic.
O'Connell's family has filed a separate lawsuit against nearly 200 bishops and other church officials, asking them to disclose the names of abusive priests.
The claim seeks to prevent clergy sex abuse by forcing the church hierarchy to disclose the names and locations of abusive priests. Anderson is also the attorney for the O'Connell family.
The Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests issued a statement Tuesday supporting the Ellison family's decision.
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