Sentencing Concludes Long Road to Justice
By Anita Draper
November 14, 2019
Thomas Ericksen, a former priest of the Diocese of Superior, was sentenced Sept. 26 in Sawyer County Circuit Court to the maximum 30 years in prison for molesting boys while serving in diocesan parishes decades ago.
Although the church long ago settled the question of Ericksen’s fitness for the priesthood – he was removed from ministry in 1983, began a counseling program in the Twin Cities and was permanently removed from the priesthood through laicization in 1988 – Catholics may still have questions.
First, why was Ericksen permitted to stay in ministry for so long? Second, why wasn’t he prosecuted decades ago? Third, how much has abuse cost the Diocese of Superior? Finally, what has the diocese – and the wider church – changed to ensure such crimes are never again perpetrated by priests?
Bishop George Albert Hammes, a Diocese of La Crosse native who instituted Second Vatican Council reforms from 1960 to 1985, was holding the crosier when Ericksen was a priest. Hammes died in 1993.
Ericksen was ordained June 2, 1973, in Phillips. He was in active ministry, mostly as an associate pastor, but also as a chaplain and pastor, until his removal in August 1983. He had 10 assignments in as many years – Rice Lake, Cumberland, Ladysmith-Bruce, Superior, Hudson, River Falls, Webster, Eagle River, Merrill and Winter.
Information shared at Ericksen’s sentencing indicates as many as 11 victims have come forward from those 10 years. Articles about Ericksen, which can be traced online back to at least 2010, include many inconsistencies and do not conclusively tell when Bishop Hammes was first notified of Ericksen’s behavior.