SNAP Calls for Fraud Investigation into Former Superior Bishop

By Brandon Stahl
Duluth News Tribune
June 30, 2010

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is calling for an investigation of former Superior diocese Bishop Raphael Fliss following allegations that one of his former priests sexually assaulted two boys from his parish in the early 1980s.

The diocese and the Rev. Tom Ericksen settled with Paul and James Eck for nearly $3 million in 1989, according to court documents obtained by the News Tribune. SNAP claims that number conflicts with a statement written by Fliss to the members of his diocese in 2004 saying that the diocese and its insurance carriers paid almost $615,000 in settlements and legal fees related to abuse between 1981 and 1983, all related to one priest.

“That written statement to Catholics by Fliss appears to be misleading, if not false,” Peter Isely, Midwest director of SNAP, wrote Wednesday in an e-mail to news organizations. “The Erickson [sic] settlement reported on today occurred in 1989. It is not even referenced in this “open” letter, written by Fliss to Catholics as a sign of the diocese transparency and honesty. Previous reports to the church auditors, therefore, are equally suspect and raises questions about how many offenders have surfaced in that diocese over the past several decades and how much money was actually applied to conceal the activities of these offenders.”

Isely also linked Fliss to the cover-up of abuse by the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, who is believed to have assaulted more than 200 boys at a school for the deaf in St. Francis, Wis., between 1950 and 1974. At least two more say they were assaulted by Murphy after he had moved to Boulder Junction in the eastern end of the Superior diocese.

“It was Fliss, after all, who oversaw the concealment of the crimes of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, who assaulted 200 deaf boys in a Milwaukee boarding school and was then transferred to the Superior diocese to minister and work there without restriction or notification until his death in 1998,” Isely said. “The case has now received international attention, its paper trail leading to the Vatican and the offices of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.”

When interviewed last week, Fliss, who was appointed as a coadjutor bishop in Superior in 1979 and elevated to bishop in 1985 before retiring in 2007, said he had little memory of Ericksen and didn’t remember the settlement. After reading the News Tribune story Wednesday and being told of the SNAP statement, Fliss said that he still didn’t remember much about the case.

"My question is, why is all this being resurrected again?” he said. “I don’t know how I can help.”

When asked about the financial discrepancies between his 2004 statement and the 1989 settlement, Fliss said he didn’t believe the numbers in the settlement were correct.

“I have no recollection of any major dollars involved,” he said. “I don’t recall such big numbers. At my age, maybe I’ve lost some of that.”

The Diocese of Superior did not return a call seeking comment.


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