Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Priest said he voiced concerns about Erickson to a bishop

LADYSMITH, Wis. — A co-worker of a priest who was found by a judge to have likely killed two people to cover up his sexual misconduct said he had voiced concern about the priest's social habits to the Superior diocese bishop.

A judge last week ruled that the Rev. Ryan Erickson almost certainly shot to death funeral home director Dan O'Connell, 39, and employee James Ellison, 22 in 2002. St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson said evidence suggests the O'Connell had found out that the priest was sexually abusing someone, was providing alcohol to minors, or both.

The ruling came Oct. 3 after a so-called John Doe hearing requested by the victim's families.

Erickson, 31, denied knowing anything about the fatal shootings before hanging himself at his parish in Hurley.

Erickson worked as an associate pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Ladysmith after the murders, from 2003 until he transferred in August 2004 to Hurley.

The Rev. John Anderson, a former priest in Ladysmith, told investigators that he worked with Erickson for about 11 months.

According to a report by the Hudson Police Department, Anderson said Erickson's alcohol consumption worried him.

Anderson remembered once when Erickson brought a cooler full of alcohol to a popular drinking spot, "Beer Can Island,'' in Hudson and partied the whole weekend.

When Anderson voiced his concern to Erickson, Erickson responded, "I'm not a priest this weekend,'' the report said.

Anderson also said he heard allegations that Erickson put firecrackers in the mouths of fish and watched them blow up, the report said.

Anderson spoke with Bishop Raphael Fliss of the Superior Diocese to request that Erickson be transferred, partly because of his social habits.

"Either he be transferred or I be transferred,'' Anderson said in the report.

Erickson was transferred to Hurley in August 2004 and hanged himself four months later.

Fliss apologized Thursday for failing to find out more about sexual allegations against Erickson that dated to 1994.

In a written statement, Fliss said the diocese did not learn of any new allegations of improper sexual behavior by Erickson until Dec. 17, 2004 two days before Erickson committed suicide.

Rick Nash, director of Nash-Jackan Funeral Home in Ladysmith, said the town trusted Erickson.

"What can you do when you trust someone?'' Nash said from the funeral home last week. "He came in here and seemed so saintly.''

Erickson betrayed the trust of the community, he said.

James Moss, former Bruce police chief and owner of a Ladysmith restaurant, befriended Erickson when he came to the city in September 2003.

"We were friends,'' he said. "We went out for dinner sometimes, and we had him over for dinner. I personally find all of this hard to believe.''

Moss said he is frustrated with the outcome of the John Doe hearing.

"It was all one-sided,'' he said. "What happened with a criminal having the right to confront his accusers?

Moss, who does not have children, said Erickson was good with children at the Ladysmith parish.

"I didn't foresee any of this. If it is true, it was a dark side I never knew.''

See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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