The vast majority of US diocesan bishops have been individually served with a lawsuit by the family of a Wisconsin man. Dan O’Connell and another man were killed by Fr. Ryan Erickson, who later killed himself, in 2002, according to a police investigation. O’Connell’s family isn’t asking for money, but wants the bishops to disclose the names of 5,000 priests they claim were proven or admitted to committing sexual abuse or who were credibly accused.
The last bit is the real sticking point. While a credibly accused priest can be removed from ministry, he still hasn’t been convicted of a crime and has not necessarily admitted to any wrongdoing. In the absence of either, does he still have the legal right to privacy? Would he not have a case for suing either the bishop or anyone else who publicizes his name?
Another problem is that many of the bishops named in the lawsuit were not the bishop for their current diocese when the accusations were made or when many of these priests were removed from ministry. The lawyer for the La Crosse, Wisconsin, diocese says as much:
“There is no law, court opinion, statute or regulation that requires what he’s asking. On the contrary, there are laws that prohibit us from doing what he’s asking,” Birnbaum said.
“To have our diocese and our bishop, who just came (to La Crosse) in 2005, named in a lawsuit in St. Croix County, which we have no connection to, alleging facts that we have no connection to and no knowledge of, that have nothing to do with child sexual abuse — it’s a homicide case — is perhaps the clearest example of what the law defines as frivolous,” Birnbaum said.
The Five Point Plan of Reform
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