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.