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Victims of sexual assault urged to come forward

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River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Two men who say they were molested by priests as children held a news conference in front of Hudson City Hall last Thursday to demand that Catholic Church officials do more to end the victimization of children.

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"Our point is simple, Mr. O'Connell died because he tried to save other children from begin assaulted. The minimum that can be done to honor this man's memory is to make sure no child in this diocese is ever put at risk unnecessarily by another sex offender priest," said Peter Isley of Milwaukee, the Midwest regional director for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Isley was accompanied by Bob Schwiderski of Wayzata, Minn., who said a priest molested him from the ages of 7 to 13 when he was growing up in the small community of Hector, Minn.

Isley and Schwiderski called on Bishop Raphael Fliss, head of the Superior Diocese, to "come clean" with more information about the late Fr. Ryan Erickson, whom St. Croix County Judge Eric Lundell has found was the likely killer of Hudson funeral director Dan O'Connell and his intern James Ellison. It is believed that Erickson murdered O'Connell because he knew that Erickson had molested a boy.

The pair also urged anyone who was abused by Erickson, or witnessed abuse by him, to contact law enforcement. They said victims should avoid contacting church officials.

"What does the (church hierarchy) do for those who have already been abused?" Schwiderski asked rhetorically, and then answered the question. "Nothing. They forget about the victim, and I think that's pathetic. They cover up. The system gives them public relations cover-up and doctrine-of-mental-reservation lies to laity and other people."

"It's time to bring sex abuse of children to law enforcement, not to the leadership of the church," Schwiderski reiterated.

He and Isley praised the work of the Hudson Police Department in its investigation of the murders of O'Connell and Ellison, and allegations that Erickson molested boys after giving them alcoholic beverages.

Isley said they had had an hour-long meeting with Hudson Police Chief Richard Trende. "He has a very impressive understanding of the dynamics of child sexual abuse," he said of the police chief.

Isley also challenged Bishop Fliss to visit Erickson's former parishes and strongly encourage those who know about Erickson's behavior to step forward.

The SNAP leaders said diocesan officials who knew about or suspected Erickson's crimes and did little or nothing to safeguard children should be criminally prosecuted for failing to report the abuse.

Bishop Fliss has apologized for the diocese's failure to determine that Erickson was unfit for the priesthood.

"In my role as bishop, I know that ultimate responsibility for much of what has taken place rests on my shoulders," he said in a news release issued last Thursday. "While I am truly sorry for not doing more to find out what really happened, I must apologize to the entire diocesan family and all the people of northern Wisconsin for these tragedies. I know the Lord is willing to forgive. I hope you will find it in your hearts to do the same."

The bishop will step down as head of the Superior Diocese on Oct. 25 - his 75th birthday.

Randy Hanson can be reached at rhanson@rivertowns.net

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