Ellisons Want Accountability for Son's Death, File Lawsuit

Barron News Shield [Wisconsin]
December 22, 2006

The parents of James Ellison, the 22-year-old Barron native likely killed by a priest in 2002, recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Superior Wisconsin, which ordained and hired the cleric.

Carsten and Sally Ellison filed the civil lawsuit in St. Croix County Court seeking unspecified damages for their son's death.

A St. Croix County judge ruled earlier this year that Fr. Ryan Erickson likely shot and killed both James Ellison and Daniel O'Connell. Erickson hanged himself outside the church he was then serving in Hurley, Wis., soon after authorities began investigating his possible involvement in the double homicide.

The family contends the Diocese of Superior knew that there were allegations of sexual assault and other abusive behaviors tied to Erickson, but church officials overlooked them and ordained Erickson anyway. The diocese then placed the priest at St. Patrick's parish in Hudson without disclosing any information regarding his past to its parishioners or clergy.

Sally Ellison said the statute of limitations deadline for filing the wrongful death litigation was Dec. 19, so the family had to make a tough decision fast.

"This was a very hard decision for us," she said. "We struggled with this for a long time. We finally concluded this is the only way we can obtain some measure of accountability or responsibility for the deaths of our son and Dan O'Connell.

"It is our hope that some good can still come out of this tragedy. We want to do what we can to prevent the pain of child sexual abuse, but also to provide counseling and after-care for those who have been abused in the past."

To that end, the Ellisons have established a non-profit corporation called The James Ellison Foundation for the Protection of Children, Inc.

The family stressed that any financial settlement reached, if any, won't be for themselves.

"We want people to know from the start that any monetary gain from this legal action will go directly into that foundation," Carsten Ellison said. "No proceeds would ever be used for our personal use."

The Ellisons also expressed their full support for the O'Connell family's proposed five-step plan for improving how the Catholic Church handles priests accused of misconduct. The plan includes releasing the names of predatory clergy, establishing a disciplinary mechanism for bishops who ordain troubled priests, fully disclosing the records of church personnel who have molested children, creating a measurable plan for caring for victims of clergy abuse and securing bishops' support in reforming child sexual abuse laws in Wisconsin.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.