"There’s a hole in the dike now. Let’s hope it keeps going.”
That’show Tom O’Connell characterized the news last week that Delaware BishopMichael Saltarelli would make public the names of 20 priests who havebeen found to have sexually abused children or who have admitted tosexual abuse.
The move was the first since the O’Connell familyfiled a lawsuit last August against the bishops of all 194 Catholicdioceses across the country demanding that the names of predatorypriests be made public.
Dan O’Connell and James Ellison were shot to death at the O’ConnellFamily Funeral Home in 2002. A St. Croix County judge found that therewas probable cause to believe that the late Fr. Ryan Erickson committedthe murders after he was confronted by Dan about the sexual abuse ofminors. Erickson hung himself in December 2003 after being questionedby police about the murders.
Inthe months that followed Erickson’s death, information surfaced thatthe Superior Diocese was aware of possible sexual abuse allegations andother problems in Erickson’s past prior to and after his ordination.
Inresponse to the findings, the O’Connell family asked the U.S. Catholicbishops to develop a concrete plan to address sexual abuse by priests.They filed the lawsuit when they felt the bishops were not addressingthe problem.
Attorney Jeff Anderson
In 2002 the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops saidthey had identified approximately 5,000 clergy who have abused ormolested children and adults since the 1950s. The lawsuit seeks to makethe names of these men, as well as their location, public.
Saltarelliwas the first bishop to respond to the suit publicly. He published thenames of priests in the Nov. 16 diocesan newsletter. The WilmingtonDiocese covers all of Delaware and nine counties in Maryland. Thebishop has also asked that Pope Benedict XVI remove the 20 men from thepriesthood. Even before being served with the lawsuit, the Delawarebishop was under pressure from within his diocese of 220,000 to weedout abusive priests. Saltarelli wrote that he released the names “tohelp those hurt and prevent others from being victimized.”
O’Connellsaid that has been the purpose of the lawsuit from the beginning. “Weare not asking for money. It’s about getting rid of those whosecriminal acts put the most innocent among us at risk. I hope that otherbishops will take his (Saltarelli’s) lead and do the right thing.”
Thesuit against Bishop Saltarelli will be dismissed, according toO’Connell attorney Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul. The family has writtena letter to Saltarelli thanking him for his action.
“We areglad that you see the value in letting the public know about thesedangerous men. We hope that other bishops will follow your example andrelease names within their own dioceses,” said the family’s letter.
Andersonsaid Tuesday that the next step in the lawsuit will be a schedulingconference before Judge Harrington in Shell Lake sometime in December.Anderson said several dioceses have asked that the suit be dismissedand for sanctions against Anderson, but he expects the suit to goforward. The judge will set a schedule to the motions and petitions tobe heard.
Anderson said while he is pleased with BishopSaltarelli’s move, he isn’t overly optimistic that it will inspireothers to do the same. “We would like to see them break rank andultimately do the right thing, but most probably won’t. That’s why itis so important what this family (O’Connell) is doing. It’s shamefulthat they are the ones that have to do the work necessary to spareother families the pain of a tragedy like theirs.”
For moreinformation about the murders of Dan O’Connell and James Ellison, thelawsuit and efforts that can be made to address priest abuse, go onlineat www.crusadeagainstclergyabuse.com