|Priest's File Documents Troubles at Seminary
Erickson's Drinking, Grades Were Addressed
By Kevin Harter
Pioneer Press [Hudson WI]
February 7, 2006
Ryan Erickson's work as a parish priest mirrored his turbulent St. Paul Seminary years, according to 118 pages from his Diocese of Superior personnel file released Monday by the Hudson city attorney.
His heavy consumption of alcohol was an oft-repeated concern, and one superior said Erickson spent more time drinking at a bar stool then he did praying at a pew.
The documents included Erickson's resume and statements of his passionate desire to be a priest as well as indications of problems, such as reprimands for his criticism of a seminary priest and professor; allegations of drinking and a referral for alcohol treatment and psychological review; and sexual misconduct investigations.
Police used a subpoena to obtain the personnel file from the diocese Feb. 25, 2005, about three months after Erickson, 31, hanged himself outside St. Mary's Church in Hurley. The information was used as part of a case against Erickson, which culminated when a St. Croix County judge found in October that the priest likely killed Dan O'Connell, 39, and James Ellison, 22, in February 2002.
The judge also found probable cause that Erickson sexually molested at least one teenage boy.
Erickson was an assistant pastor at St. Patrick's Church in Hudson when O'Connell and Ellison were shot to death at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home.
City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick released the information Monday, four days after releasing details about information gathered through a search warrant at the Hurley church.
Hudson Police Chief Dick Trende said Monday that detectives weren't investigating the diocese but were looking for information that would either support or refute details gathered from witnesses, including two Somerset men who said tht when they were teens, Erickson regularly provided them with alcohol.
"We were looking for issues of conduct, including alcohol and any history of sexual allegations," Trende said.
In April 1999, seminary officials filed a copy of the third-year review of Erickson, including "concern about excessive use of alcohol … academic performance, his tendency to buffoonery …."
In response to an inquiry requested by the Rev. Patrick Quinn, a seminary board of review voted in November 1999 to continue Erickson's process toward ordination. However, the vote wasn't unanimous.
"I cannot vote with confidence that this man be ordained. I have serious reservations about his strength of character. I see him as one who deflects responsibility for his actions, loose with the tongue and somewhat manipulative," Quinn wrote.
Quinn asked that Erickson be summoned to address "issues of integrity" after he had failed a theology class taught by Quinn.
Erickson had told many on campus and beyond that Quinn had failed him because he didn't like Erickson. Quinn said this was a "a serious attack on his integrity as a priest and professor."
That same fall, the Rev. Phillip Rask filed a memo in Erickson's file saying he had met with Erickson and discussed issues of the priesthood ahead, including celibacy. Erickson told him he would have no problem being chaste and denied a problem with alcohol but said he had been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
The issues that came up at the seminary, and during his priesthood, were present during his undergraduate years at St. Mary's University in Winona, Minn., as well.
In a letter dated Aug. 28, 1996, the Rev. Kevin Gordon, vocation director of the Diocese of Superior, recommended that Erickson be admitted to the St. Paul Seminary "provisionally."
Gordon based his concerns on previous allegations of sexual misconduct.
A psychologist for the diocese wrote that Erickson said the first incident was alleged when he was 6 and a cousin about 4; a second involved sexual involvement with a 14-year-old boy in Vilas County, Wis., when Erickson was 17. Erickson, he wrote, said police investigated both incidents.
According to Vilas County investigators, there was some credibility to accusations of abuse against Erickson at the time, but there wasn't enough evidence to charge him.
The diocese psychologist recommended further psychological evaluation.
The Rev. Ronald Bowers wrote that in an analysis filed in October 1996, psychiatrist Dr. Jay McNamara found that: "His psychosexual history is within normal limits. It is clear in stating that he is not a sexual predator. He needs to grow in maturity, self-esteem and personal insight."
McNamara and Dr. Mark Hansen recommended that Erickson was a good candidate to become a priest if he addressed his shortcomings.
On Jan. 15, months after the judge found probable cause that Erickson had killed two men and abused a teen, Bishop Raphael Fliss apologized to the families of the victims. He took responsibility for not taking action after receiving calls, e-mails and letters about Erickson's erratic behavior during his controversial Hudson tenure.
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