Friday, July 07, 2006

The man who knew too much.

Fr. Ryan Erickson - Undocumented and unauthorized reflections.

Today someone gave me a file on this priest containing his autopsy report and evidence, as well as testimony, against him regarding the Hudson, Wisconsin murders of two funeral home workers. Evidently the documents are now open for the public record. The person passing on the file is a staunch defender of the innocence of Fr. Erickson. Nevertheless, I forgot the documents at my office. I had skimmed them briefly with a fair amount of distaste. It's way too much information for anyone, hence it's providential that I forgot them. The case is closed nevertheless, a court has ruled that Fr. Erickson most likely committed the murders, although his reputation had already been tarnished by allegations of homosexual conduct with under age males. Supposedly the motive of the murders was to silence the Funeral Home Director who apparently was going to expose the priest. Almost everyone agrees he had sexual problems; his supporters, admittedly a minority of people, believe he was not capable of the murders. Those who believe the court rulings are in the majority.

I just don't know. My friend who shared the files with me received them from someone else. My friend was once again, visibly shaken. He admired this priest. He was terribly upset when the news of his suicide first broke. Another person I know left the Church as a result of the scandal. Which reminded me of John of the Cross' maxim, (free-base quote) "Take no man for an example, revere him not, for the devil will show you his faults." Or something to that effect.

Erickson was a good priest. Perhaps a bit doctrinaire, dogmatic and therefore rigid in his approach however. He loved the cassock, wore it everywhere, and in the winter, he wore a cloak with golden frogs clasping it. He loved traditional trappings. He was orthodox in his spirituality, perhaps somewhat naive, and he was faithful to the Roman rite - he was a Novus Ordo priest to be sure, but very traditional. He was an impassioned homilist as well as moralist. I suspect he would have loved Savanarola. That is not necessarly a bad thing, although it alienated many. He came on pretty strong. When I first met him, in the cape, I thought he was kind of a fruitcake. After I got to know him, I still held that opinion, although I could see he was sincere and wanted to be a holy priest. He was very likeable, but there was something there that told me he craved affirmation, respect, and deep down, he just wanted to be liked. Human respect was very important to him. Is that motive enough to murder someone who may expose you? Maybe.

His past sins, now public - homosexual encounters, pornography, etc. - are ever so forgiveable. Except of course in a Church, a culture, that insists upon calling it pedophilia. I was 13 once - it's not pedophilia. The adolescent is not to blame, but the perpetrator, stuck in 'arrested emotional/sexual development' is. It's homosexual behavior, not pedophilia, as everyone knows. Yes it's sexual abuse, but it's not pedophilia, in fact, pedophile priests are pretty rare per capita - homosexual priests are a small percentage as well, nevertheless the abuse is rooted in homosexuality, not pedophilia. (Get it straight NCCB!)

Anyway. What was Fr. Erickson's problem? I'm just guessing here, but there has to be a sense of loneliess and isolation in the mix. In a sense his 'sacredotal style' was strange to his peers. I felt he was effeminate, other's disagree. (In the United States it's just wierd to go around town in a cassock and cape - well, not always - but in his case it was odd.) Nevertheless he had mannerisms and vocal inflections that others would consider mid-west country dialect, but I heard it as effeminate. He was 'mad' at all the apostates and liturgical abusers. He therefore was very 'kosher' as regards ritual. His spirituality seemed to be somewhat "mystic" based, with Catherine Emmerich thrown in. There was something, somehow, superficial about him, although I can never question his sincerity. The evidence regarding his life, sadly, shows up many flaws, many struggles. Was there no one he could have talked to? To whom he could have bared his soul? His sins were not unforgiveable, and if he had someone to talk to, he would have been able, perhaps, to work through everything. Although facing a potential prison sentence as a sex offender is a rather hopeless prospect.

Human respect. Personal honor. Idiosyncratic ideas of holiness and priesthood. Isolation and loneliness. Superficial piety. So many things must have contributed to his suicide. What a tortured soul! In his last will and testament he asked for prayers and Masses to be said for his soul. I see in the bulletin at St. Agnes that his wishes are being kept, many Masses are being offered for him.

He was a 'good boy' - that's what he wanted people to think of him - but that is just my opinion. He must have been a good priest as well, as those whom he ministered to can tell you. I didn't really like him however, he reminded me of a fellow I was in the monastery with - who had a 'shadow life' as well, so I was prejudiced, sue me! This guy took his habit with him when he left, it was all about externals for him - he subsequently left the Church. (Alas! I digress!)

Regardless, let's pray for Fr. Erickson for the rest of our lives - God's mercy is so inscrutable.


  1. This is so unbelievably sad...

    I agree with your explanation of the terminology, too.

    Forgive me- because I can either go off here or on my own blog.

    I don't get this- why do men with this disorder flock to the priesthood? Don't get me wrong- within a ten mile radius there was one transferred priest, one very well-paid superintendent of schools, & one first grade teacher in a Christian reform church that were all arrested for the crimes of taking advantage of children- this isn't just a 'Catholic priest' problem.

    However- there should be a blanket rule firmly enforced, that no priest be left alone with any child without another adult present- there is really no need for it. The priests main duty is to administer the sacraments- as far as his social life goes, there's no reason any young man or woman has to be left alone with any of them... period.

    And, to take my rant a step further- just a comment as it's basically none of my business...

    These men should be refused absolution if they are having this big a problem- assuming they confess. They should be urged to turn themselves in- they can reconcile with God from a jail cell if need be-

    Better voluntarily than otherwise. And better a jail-cell penance than eternity elsewhere!!!

    Sorry Terry- I'm not going to delete it- it's just my opine- & I am really not privy to such matters.

  2. Heh- it pays to edit...

    That was a PUBLIC school superintendent-

    & of course I meant that no young man, woman, or CHILD need be alone with a priest...


  3. Don Marco9:00 AM

    Dear Terry, This posting calls for some kind of practical and compassionate response. Allow me to make a proposal. I will say the Seven Penitential Psalms today for Father Erickson and in a spirit of reparation. Will you join me? How many readers of Abbey-Roads will commit themselves to praying the Seven Penitential Psalms today? Let's do it.

  4. Terry,

    The other person you know “who left the church as a result of the scandal.” Did not take Erickson as an example, nor revered him.

    After the news of Erickson’s suicide, pedophilia / homosexual encounters, the alleged murderer of two innocent people in order to keep his secret from being exposed; plus the cover up by the Bishop and those so call church leaders who moved him because of allegations of misconduct at his former parish – because of this, as well as all the other priest/religious misconduct and abuse that has come to light these past 10 years or so; was the last straw.

    How can any spiritual / faithful devout catholic attend mass and not wonder if the priest saying mass is a pedophile? How many times has the bishop moved this priest to keep scandal out of the church? These people should be put in jail, not moved to another parish where they will destroy more lives!

    What about the victims? The young lives that are destroyed because of these “religious” people to whom they looked up to? These young people have deep scars, confusion and guilt because they were abused by someone they trusted, someone they might have wanted to be like when they grew up. If a young person is truly trying to seek out God’s will, and the abuser confuses the abuse as God’s will for the victim, how messed up do you think that victim will be?

    This person you know has knowledge of an abuse that went on for a number of years, but she was told to keep quite in order not to bring scandal to the church. She wanted to be a good catholic, she loved the church, and wanted to be a holy individual, she tried to forget what she knew, but it would not go away, the secret had to be told! The abuser had to be brought to justice so the victims could find some peace knowing the abuser will never hurt another person again. Unfortunately she waited too long, and did nothing, now it is almost impossible for anything to be done.

    A spiritual life can be found without the church! The creator can be found outside the walls of a building. One can experience something beyond themselves just by feeling the grass under their feet. There is life outside the Catholic Church!

  5. God bless you all for your comments, I feel so bad that this reflection was so disturbing. I've really resoved to continue to pray for him and I will offer the penetential psalms for him. All of your comments are good however, thanks very much!

  6. Alejandra Hall1:13 PM

    Don Marco,
    I will be praying the psalms for Fr. Erickson. I used to pray for him when all this happened and then, I forgot. Thank you Terry for this reflection; it brought it back to mind and I will pray for him again.
    I am a little embarrased to say I don't know which ones are the penitential psalms, other than psalm 51.
    I don't understand people that leave the church because of the actions of some priests. We are followers of Jesus Christ, not followers of men. We have so many good and holy priests! Let's pray for them, too.

  7. Don Marco3:05 PM

    Dear friends,
    The Seven Penitential Psalms are the following: 6, 31 (32), 37 (38), 50 (51), 101 (102), 129 (130), and 142 (143). I give the traditional Catholic numbering first and the Hebrew numbering in parentheses. One can find the Seven Penitential Psalms in any traditional Catholic prayerbook.
    Father G. and I prayed them after Mass today for Father Erickson. One never tires of them; they seem written just for occasions like these.

  8. What a great article. You really hit the nail on the head with this one. Until the bishops admit that there are way too many sodomites sashaying around in clerics feeding on the innocent and the ignorant our problems will continue to escalate. Remember in the old testament when the jews turned from God he handed them over to their sins. I believe many dioceses are reaping the rewards of the cowards who are afraid to address the real issue (HOMOSEXUALS IN THE PRIESTHOOD)

    When was the last time you heard your priest define the homosexual lifestyle as grave and evil. Our society is littered with such people and the silence from many of our priests is deafening.

    ps where's the spellcheck button?

  9. There are victims & their families who haven't left the Catholic Church, as they know it's not about the clergy.

  10. Don Marco6:50 PM

    The reluctance and then the seeming inability to address sexual sin as sin can be traced back to the widespread refusal of Pope Paul VI's prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968. Confusion followed. The smoke of the Evil One clouded the atmosphere and consciences grew dim. Many lost their way.
    That being said, "Taliban Shane" should know that miracles of true repentance and conversion are happening every day in the secrecy of the Sacrament of Penance. My priestly experience is that sexual sins are indeed being addressed, confessed, and cast into the vast ocean of the Divine Mercy. Their are many hidden lives of penance and reparation. There are many souls who, having lost their way for a time in the labyrinths of lust, find themselves graced with compunction and powerfully drawn to reparation.
    The Mother of God, especially through her Rosary, has saved many from sinking into the mire of sexual sin. The most fruitful work in helping people with same–sex attraction, with sexual addictions, or with longstanding patterns of impurity is done not in the pulpit, but in the secret of the confessional. True and lasting change takes place in the contemplation of the Eucharistic Face of Christ and in nearness to His Eucharistic Heart.
    In all of these things harshness is of no avail. Gentleness wins more souls than a hard and bitter zeal. There must be clarity, of course, and the willingness to look at one's own sin and hate it as sin. By the intercession of the Mother of God, the mercy of God will continue to triumph in the lives and in the hearts of sinners. And that is always a reason for thanksgiving and joy.

  11. I said The Seven Penitential Psalms. Thank you for suggesting that.

  12. I know a Wisconsin attorney who was very familiar with the case.

    He thinks Father Erickson was innocent of the murder charges.

  13. dar from wisc.11:43 AM

    Thank you all for the interesting readings and the Psalms


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