Dedicated to the memory of Dan and
James as well as the countless
victims of clergy abuse.
  [ HOME ]  
Questions & Answers:


The Problem of Clergy Abuse


The O’Connell Lawsuit


Why the O’Connells are Pursuing so Aggressively


The Problem of Clergy Abuse

Is this a relatively “new” problem for the Catholic Church?

Hardly!  Although clergy sexual abuse has been kept hidden from the eyes of lay Catholics and the general public for decades, it has been part of the clerical sub-culture for centuries.  The earliest documentary evidence of the official church’s concern for priests and bishops who have sexually abused the young come from the year 309 AD. 

Top of Page

Is it true that the Bishops knew very little about child abuse and its various effects until the first media revelations in the mid-eighties?

The history of clergy sexual abuse reaches back through the centuries.  In our own era, there is documentation from diocesan files that shows that bishops had been aware of the serious consequences of clergy sexual abuse from the 1940's.  Several experts, including Father Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Paraclete Fathers which has specialized in treating priests with sexual problems, wrote to several bishops in the 1950's that priests who sexually abuse young people cannot be cured and should be laicized.  The bishops ignored this advice.  There is a body of documentary evidence that clearly shows that bishops have been well aware of the problem, the damage to victims and the criminality of sexual abuse since the mid-twentieth century.

Top of Page

Has the Vatican taken any direct action to respond to the clergy abuse cases?

Pope John Paul II was aware of the details of the sexual abuse problem at least from 1985.  He was kept aware of the developing problem through the Vatican embassy in the U.S. as well as by direct information from other U.S. sources and sources in other countries.  Neither Pope John Paul II nor any Vatican official made any public statements about clergy sexual abuse until June, 1993 when the pope directed a letter to the U.S. bishops.  Between 1993 and 2004 he mentioned clergy sexual abuse 11 times in statements or sermons.  Most of these utterances were within the context of other speeches or documents to bishops groups (from the U.S., Ireland and Oceania).  The only statement devoted solely to clergy sexual abuse was his address t the U.S. cardinals on April 23, 2002.  The other direct action the Vatican has taken has been the issuance of the 2001 norms which facilitate the laicization of priests who have been found guilty of sexual abuse.  The Vatican has never issued a statement in support of victims nor has it issued any directives to bishops about the pastoral care of victims.

Top of Page

What about the bishops who have been named as sexual abusers and the others who have covered up sexual abuse by priests?

The official Church has a double standard.  Several bishops have been named as sexual abusers and have resigned, usually under pressure from the Vatican.  They are then allowed to retire and lead a comfortable life hidden from the public.  The priests however, are generally prosecuted in Church courts and laicized (defrocked) at least since public pressure forced the bishops to do something since 2002.  The bishops lack the power to discipline each other.  This must come from the Vatican and although several bishops have been credibly accused of sexual abuse and many bishops have been proven to have enabled priest-abusers, the Vatican has, to date, taken no action against any of them.  In short, the bishops are “safe”.

Top of Page


The US bishops say that the crisis is passed and that they have responded successfully to this problem.

This was not a “crisis” in the conventional sense but the public revelation of a deep-seated pathology in the Catholic Church.  The Bishops have responded minimally in an administrative and bureaucratic fashion.  They are treating this horrendous human o\problem in a business-like manner.  They have responded on a one-dimensional basis: by attempting to laicize every know priest abuser.  That’s all.  They have done little if anything to seriously look at their own role in this long-standing phenomenon.  They have failed to respond in an effectively pastoral manner to victims and their families and they continue to put victims with lawsuits through a brutal legal process.

Finally, Bishops are clearly backsliding on their public assurances given after the January 2002 Boston revelations.  They have not released files and other information unless forced by the courts.  They have continued, in some cases, to re-assign known predators.  They have done nothing to call known sexual abusers among the bishops to account and they have aggressively blocked all efforts at legislative reform that will benefit sex abuse victims of any part of our society.

Top of Page

There have been very few “new” cases in the past five years.  Doesn’t that speak to the success of the Bishops’ efforts to stamp bout clergy abuse?

Its true there have been fewer cases reported in the recent past but this is due to the aggressive actions taken by victims, victims’ support groups, attorneys and a general climate and culture change with regard to clergy abuse.  Bishops now report allegations and take quick action, not because they have a new found commitment to prevent abuse but because they are forced to do so by the media, the courts and the victims.

Top of Page


Some of the bishops claim with pride that no organization has done as much to reduce internal sexual abuse as the Catholic Church.  Is this true?

This is an assertion without any solid basis.  The bishops point to the Dallas 2002 Charter, the National Review Board, the separate diocesan review boards and the various studies such as the John Jay College Survey as evidence of their efforts.  However all of these examples came about only because of the massive pressure exerted on the bishops from the media, public opinion and the courts.  In spite of al of this they continue to spend countless dollars to obstruct justice and to prevent meaningful legislative reforms.  Have they done more than any other entity?  This is really a claim without basis.

Top of Page


The bishops have resisted legislative reform, claiming that it discriminates against the Catholic Church and that it will bankrupt dioceses.

The proposed legislative reforms will impact any and all institutions that enable sexual abusers.  The reforms are not specifically targeted at the Catholic Church although of all public institutions, the Catholic Church has the most egregious record of cover-up.  The US Bishops in general have responded to the legislative efforts by victims groups with a costly campaign to discredit the victims, their attorneys and their supporters.  In doing so they have used very expensive lobbyists, public relations firms but most important, erroneous and misleading information.

Top of Page


What about bankruptcy?

The possibility of wholesale bankruptcy is slim to nil.  The dioceses that have resorted to this have not done so because they were facing financial ruin.  They did it as a tactic to avoid trials and to find a way to limit paying restitution to victims.  The victims by the way, have every right to substantial monetary payments from the Church.  We can never forget that the Church’s leadership looked the other way in most cases and allowed innocent children to be viciously raped and sexually abused.  Many of these victims lost much of the quality of their lives.

Top of Page

In fact, many dioceses have significant holdings that they have managed to hide.  Much of the money paid to victims comes from insurance.  In some cases dioceses actually have to use their own funds and in others they are forced to sell expensive properties but in no instance have the legitimate claims of sexual abuse victims curtailed valid ministries in the Church.

Top of Page


Does anyone know how much the Church has paid out?

Several dioceses have made disclosures but it is impossible to determine whether these are accurate or not.  It is highly probable that the exact amount will never be officially disclosed.  In addition to the payments for victims as well as costs for treatment and maintenance of abusive clerics, another very significant expense has been the attorneys’ fees paid by the Church to its own lawyers.  While plaintiff lawyers work on a contingency basis, the Church’s lawyers do not, nor do they work pro bono.  It is estimated for example, that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles spends a minimum of $500,000 per month on its army of attorneys. 

Top of Page


Most of the cases now are old cases involving people who claim abuse sometimes 30 or 40 years ago.  How can such cases possibly be processed in the courts today?

The bishops, in their many-sided attempts to discredit the efforts for legislative reform, have tried to create a climate of hostility towards older victims of abuse.  Psychologists who have worked with sexual abuse victims attest that many take years or even decades to get to the point where they can publicly disclose what happened much less become involved in the trauma and stress of a legal process.  The bishops either do not understand the deep-seated and complex impact of sexual abuse, or they discount it.  The fact is that older victims still suffer and in some cases the suffering has only increased over the years.  It is up to the courts to decide if a case lacks sufficient evidence, not the Catholic Church.

Top of Page


Is recovered memory bogus science or is it legitimate?

Recovered memories of traumatizing events from the past are legitimate.  Reputable clinicians are in agreement that people can and do bury very painful events or experiences because the memories are more than they can handle.  Often an event or experience later in life can unlock the memories, causing the person significant and often unbearable mental and emotional agony.  In cases of recovered memory with Catholic clergy abuse victims, the memories are usually corroborated by other sources of proof.

Top of Page


What about the False Memory Foundation?

The False Memory Foundation was founded by people who had been accused of sexual abuse.  The Foundation lacks any scientifically proven basis.  It has been successfully challenged in court and is the subject of a critical evaluation by a group of reputable psychiatrists and psychologists whose work was published in Misinformation Concerning Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Survivors.  New York.  Haworth Press. 2001, edited by Charles Whitfield, Joyanna Silberg, and Paul Fink.

Top of Page


Aren’t the victims’ lawyers coordinating their efforts to change the laws only so that they can get more cases and then reap more fees? 

The victims attorneys are not organized nor do they work together with any kind of common strategy.  The bishops’ lawyers on the other hand, are part of a network that is coordinated by the office of the General Counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Although they do not take order as such from the General Counsel, there has been a great deal of collaboration and support among them.  They work for the bishops.  The bishops historically have worked together to coordinate strategies in their response to the clergy abuse problems.

Top of Page


What is the point to the O’Connell-Ellison case?  All the key people are dead?

The priest who murdered the two young men is dead.  However the murders would not have taken place had the bishop of Superior not enabled Fr. Erikson’s sexual abuse of minors by ignoring the many warning signs he had received.  This suit will serve to force the bishops to take truly effective action with regard to the sexual predators among the church’s clergy.  It is part of a history of civil lawsuits that have been brought by victims against the various dioceses and bishops in the U.S.  The only reason the bishops have taken any action at all has been because of the pressure derived from the lawsuits.

Top of Page


The O’Connell Lawsuit

Exactly what names do you want disclosed?   What do you mean when you say “credibly accused?”


We’re talking about three groups of people.

  • First, those who admit molesting kids, either to church officials or in court.
  • Second, those who are proven to have molested kids.
  • Third, those who have been suspended from their positions by church officials because church officials believe the allegations are credible.

Top of Page

But some of these men may be innocent, right?

Yes, some may be. But for the sake of public safety, like all other accused, we need to investigate further.

Top of Page

Aren’t people in the US innocent until proven guilty?

Of course they are, and that’s the way it should be. That is the standard we use before locking people up in prison. But we’re not talking about incarcerating the potentially guilty. We’re talking about protecting the potentially vulnerable.


All the time, we take away privileges from people if we’re convinced they’re dangerous. Police routinely pull over drivers who are wearing and holding open beer cans. They’re still innocent until proven guilty. But police know that ‘job one’ is protecting innocent citizens. If these drivers prevail later in court, they are allowed to drive again.

It is similar with accused abusive priests. Once the accusations are deemed credible, for the safety of everyone, such priests are suspended and an investigation continues along with possible court.  Catholics and others need and deserve to know these men.

Keep in mind that in each of these cases, the names of the accused predators, are often made public. But not all of them, and not all of them time.  Once they’ve been made public, they need to be compiled and preserved on a nationally known data base, so they can’t move hundreds of miles away, just claim to be a retired priest, and start grooming and molesting kids again.

Keep in mind too that the priesthood is a privilege, not a right. So too is managing a parish. If someone molests a child, this privilege is lost. And the reason is simple: most molesters molest again and again. Raping or fondling a child isn’t a ‘slip up,’ or an aberration or a ‘lapse in judgment.’ It’s a devastating criminal act that is almost certain to be repeated.

These days, with priests getting older and seminaries getting empty and Catholicism growing, the demand for priests is greater than ever before. So when a bishop suspends a priest for sexual abuse allegations, it’s almost always “credible.”

Top of Page

Are you concerned or worried about the potential harm that might come to these men if the allegations against them end up being false?

Absolutely.  No one wants anyone else to suffer, especially if they are innocent. It would be horrible to be falsely accused of child molestation. Even so, it’s far easier for one educated adult to repair his reputation than it is for perhaps dozens of innocent kids to repair their entire psychological and spiritual lives.

A few priests have been falsely accused. They’ve been suspended and investigated and later restored to their positions. All of them, we are sure, have suffered tremendously.   The suffering of these priests is the same as any other lay person who is falsely accused of any crime and the legal system must run its course.  Clergy should not and cannot be different than any other individual when it comes to crime, especially as it relates to child molestation.

Remember too, that we are looking to at the names of those priests that have been accused by the Church itself under the John Jay College study conducted in 2002.

How many false allegations have there been?

The church’s leading defense lawyer answered that question in a New York Times interview with reporter Sam Dillon on 8/31/02:

“Patrick Schiltz, dean of the University of St. Thomas law school in Minnesota, said that over more than a decade he had defended Catholic dioceses against sexual-abuse lawsuits in more than 500 cases, and that he had concluded that ''fewer than 10'' of those cases were based on false accusations.”

Top of Page

Haven’t the bishops already made reforms?

The bishops, either individually or through the US Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops, have taken only belated and begrudging minimal steps.  More emphasis has been made to fight molestation cases and on public relations to sway the average Catholic than to real Church reform.

Top of Page

Are you saying the bishops’ reforms are meaningless?

No, there may be some progress being made but it is too little and much too slow. Basically we are saying three things.

First, at best, the bishops’ so-called reforms miss the boat, because they focus on 99% of the people who aren’t the problem.  Here’s an example: They’re fingerprinting and doing background checks on adult Catholics. That’s fine and long overdue. But remember, this isn’t a Catholic LAYPERSON abuse crisis. It’s a Catholic CLERGY abuse crisis. So 99% of those getting fingerprinted aren’t the real problem.  This type of prevention must be done with both groups. That being said, there is nothing that calls for accountability within their own ranks.  Thus, while the USCCB wants to direct changes to the parish priest, they have done nothing to assure their own actions or lack of actions are accountable.

Second, at worst, the bishops’ so-called reforms may actually be harmful, because they contribute to a false sense of complacency and they obscure what HASN’T yet been done: releasing the names of the dangerous and potentially dangerous child molesters.  Here’s an example: Every Catholic employee now has to sign a “code of conduct” acknowledging that abuse is wrong. Sounds good, right? But think about it: did any priest molest because, years ago, he didn’t sign a “code of conduct” saying abuse is wrong? Of course not. This is one of the many so-called ‘reforms’ that is just pure PR.

Every diocese now has a formal communications plan that pledges openness. Sounds good, right? But think about it: did bishops hide the truth because, years ago, he didn’t have a formal communications plan pledging openness? Of course not. So this is another so-called reform that is just pure PR.   We could go on and on.

Third, honestly, it’s way too early to tell if the bishops’ so-called reforms will have an impact. For decades, if not centuries, there’s been the sexual abuse of kids in the church and there’s been cover up of those crimes. Only the most naïve would believe that such deeply-rooted, long-standing practices could be totally rooted out and reversed in just a couple of years. (The Charter took effect in 2003.)

Bottom line is that while some steps may have prevented some molestation, dioceses are run independently and each bishop has only one superior; the Pope. While some dioceses have shown improvements in their molestation efforts, others have failed miserably.  What is worse is there is no accountability for those bishops who have allowed and continue to allow priests and other clergy to molest or demonstrate other erratic behavior.

Top of Page

Why are the names so important?

Changing job titles or locations of child molesters doesn’t cure them. So that hundreds, maybe thousands of abusive clerics – current and former priests, brothers, seminarians, bishops and nuns – are in our neighborhoods and we don’t know who they are, what they’ve done, and the risks they pose.   Some of them are tutoring, coaching, volunteering, or babysitting their neighbors’ kids. Some, maybe many of them, are time bombs and they’re going off now or they will be.

If we know who these offenders are, there’s at least a chance we can protect our families from them and we can help catch and prosecute them when they molest again.

Top of Page

Why have the O’Connells filed a lawsuit?

We have filed because it reminds the public that hundreds, maybe thousands of abusive clerics – current and former priests, brothers, seminarians, bishops and nuns – are in our neighborhoods and we don’t know who they are, what they’ve done, and the risks they pose.

Beyond that, we of course hope that a judge will look at the horrific track record on abuse by the church hierarchy, and the terribly inadequate response in recent years by bishops, and see that without independent intervention by someone who’s unbiased, more victims will stay wounded, more secrets will stay hidden, more kids will stay vulnerable, and more innocent lives will be shattered.

We hope too that by filing, we put both the clergy and all the bishops/hierarchy on alert that we will do everything in our power to protect children.  Through this lawsuit, one immediate objective is to have any clergy member who is contemplating some form of molestation to think twice.  And also through this lawsuit, we are telling the church leaders that reform is a must and if they truly believe in protecting children and reaching out pastorally to victims, they will support the terms we are seeking.

Top of Page


Why aren’t you suing for damages?

We as a family have stated all along that this is not about money.  If there continues to be a lack of action, that may happen later, but first things first: our main concern now is with one goal – putting the safety of innocent kids above the alleged privacy of predatory priests, and getting the names of the offenders out there in the public eye for the benefit of kids, parents, families, police and Catholics.

Top of Page

Why have your meetings with church officials been so frustrating?

We have tried in vain to have meetings with church leaders through the USCCB but have been unsuccessful.  It took close to one year for the Bishop of Superior, a small diocese in Northwest Wisconsin, to finally make contact with the families of the victims, expressing his regret that someone in his diocese, a priest that he ordained, could commit a double homicide.  We have asked for meetings with the USCCB at their annual conference and beyond but have been ignored by all bishops and only given a very brief session at the conference in a hotel lobby with a USCCB staff member.  We have asked for a meeting with the USCCB committee on Office of Child and Youth Protection, but have been denied.  While we have met with the chairman of that group, our Five Point Plan was delivered but the only comment was they are working on it and don’t agree with all of our points.  Yet they refuse to sit down and discuss which points or how to move forward.  We have been turned back at the Archdiocese of Chicago where the incoming President of the USCCB resides.  Rather, we were met by police and a secretary.  No representative could take five minutes to discuss our plan.  Lastly, we have sent numerous letters to the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI, regarding a possible meeting to discuss the problem.  We have received nothing in return nor has the Vatican ever expressed regret or compassion to the murders committed by one of their own. 

We firmly believe that pastoral care starts at the top, which given the response we have seen from the bishops and the Vatican itself, may provide insight into the problems we are experiencing.

Top of Page

Why do you think they haven’t been responsive?

Beyond having a history of not responding, that question should be asked by all Catholics regarding clergy abuse.

Top of Page



Why The O’Connells are Pursuing so Agressively

Why are you pursuing clergy abuse so aggressively?

Dan found out about Erickson possibly abusing children, a fact later proven by police.  Dan was killed trying to approach the priest on the subject, and James was killed because he was an innocent by-stander.  We as a family decided that something good must come from these two horrendous murders.

Once we began our efforts, we not only discovered that the Diocese of Superior and the bishop knew of Erickson’s past, but we found out that clergy abuse is widespread across the US and a problem that has existed within the church for 2,000 years.  In our research, we have spoken with many victims whose lives have been dramatically harmed due to clergy molestation.  These victims have dealt with physical, emotional, and spiritual scars by being a victim priestly or other clergy abuse.  The stories are heart breaking and too often have led to depression or worse, suicide.  Yet church officials have not only kept the names of abusers a secret but have moved priests and taken other action that has allowed more victims to be abused.  Church officials have spent millions on lawyers to dispute victims’ claims and have created extensive PR campaigns to make the victims “the bad guys.”

As far as we know, there has never been a double homicide by a priest stemming from molestation.  This has created yet another ugly chapter in the book of clergy abuse.  We will do whatever we can to create a method for accountability of church leaders.

Top of Page

What are your overall objectives in pursuing clergy abuse?

While nothing will bring Dan or James back, we want to make something good

come from these murders.  Our overall objectives are quite simple:

  • Protect children from sexual abuse by priests, bishops, and other clergy.
  • Seek help for the hundreds of thousands of victims that have been so severely hurt by clergy abuse.
  • Gain back the respect of the majority of good priests whose reputations have been damaged over the years by the actions of clergy abusers and the irresponsibility of the Church hierarchy in dealing with abuse.
  • Build a stronger Church for generations to come; one where the priests and leaders are trusted. 

Top of Page

What do you say to people who say “Why bring up things that have happened in the past?” or simply suggest that you “Let it go”?

The answer is an easy one.  How many years would it take another person to forget about their son or daughter, husband or wife, brother or sister, or good friend who was murdered and that murder could have easily been prevented? 

We also ask at what point a mother or father would let someone who molested their child be forgiven or free of legal recourse/punishment.  What about if the molester’s name was kept a secret or was moved to another city where these crimes could happen to another family’s son or daughter?

Simply stated, put yourself in our position and ask yourself, “If it were my family member, what would I do?”

Top of Page