Parishioners Expect Apology from Superior Bishop
Catholic Church: Members of Hudson, Wis., Parish, Who Complained about a Priest Who Later Killed Himself and Probably Two Other Men, Also Want Better Background Checks on Potential Priests

Associated Press, carried in Duluth News Tribune
January 11, 2006

HUDSON, Wis. - Parishioners at St. Patrick's Catholic Church want the bishop to apologize and acknowledge mistakes when he meets with them to discuss a former priest who a judge ruled probably killed two funeral home workers nearly four years ago, the parish's priest says.

The parish, in proposing some changes to Bishop Raphael Fliss of the Superior Diocese, also wants the diocese to pay more attention to parishioners and their concerns, make more information available about the seminary selection and education processes and improve background checks on potential priests, the Rev. John Parr said.

"What the parish is recommending is that there is a wisdom in God's people that needs to be recognized and tapped into more deeply," Parr said.

Fliss will meet with the congregation for the first time Sunday about the late Rev. Ryan Erickson, 31, who hanged himself about a year ago after police questioned him about the slayings.

"These events are going to take a long time (to heal) and a lot of God's grace," Parr said.

Erickson was a priest at the 1,800-member church from 2000 to 2003 and drew criticism from some parish members over his behavior and conservative religious views.

In October, St. Croix County Circuit Judge Eric Lundell ruled there was probable cause that Erickson shot Daniel O'Connell, 39, and James Ellison, 22, at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home on Feb. 5, 2002. O'Connell was a member of St. Patrick's.

District Attorney Eric Johnson said evidence suggested O'Connell found out the priest was sexually abusing someone, was providing alcohol to minors, or both.

Some church members have publicly wondered whether the killings could have been prevented had the diocese acted when parishioners complained about Erickson.

Parr said the parish had raised concerns about Erickson's emotional health. He said he had been told that Erickson could be both warm and ingratiating, but also demanding and domineering.

After Lundell's ruling, Fliss issued a statement and apologized for failing to find out more about Erickson, saying evaluations in the early 1990s showed Erickson was a proper candidate for the priesthood, despite an allegation of sexual misconduct with a young boy years before Erickson began studying for the priesthood.

The diocese did not learn of any new allegations of improper sexual behavior by Erickson until Dec. 17, 2004 -- just two days before Erickson committed suicide, the bishop wrote.

Under new practices across the country, Parr said, dioceses are establishing review boards to consider allegations of sexual misconduct by priests. He said the Hudson parish wants those boards also to evaluate complaints made about priests regarding their theological teachings and personality disorders.


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