Priest's Peers Had Voiced Concerns

By Kevin Harter
Pioneer Press [Hudson WI]
March 11, 2006

Several priests who knew the Rev. Ryan Erickson told investigators they found him to be rigid, divisive and troubled.

Transcripts of interviews with the priest were the latest information released by the Hudson, Wis., city attorney, who is slowly making public most of the documents from the investigation of Erickson.

That investigation led a St. Croix County judge to find probable cause that Erickson had killed two men in February 2002 at a Hudson funeral home and earlier had sexually abused at least one boy. Erickson, 31, later hanged himself.

In 233 pages of documents released Thursday, the Rev. Phillip Rask, St. Paul Seminary rector, told investigators Erickson was a "below average" student. He said church officials were concerned about Erickson's inability to curb his impulses, including drinking and "promiscuity."

Rask told investigators he was aware of sexual allegations against Erickson prior to his entering the seminary, and that one student filed a complaint after he woke up to discover Erickson in his bed.

No action was taken against Erickson, but Rask said Erickson was told that his "conduct was unbecoming of a priest."

In addition to Rask, five other priests were interviewed, as were a church deacon and a group of Carmelite nuns.

The Rev. John Drummy of Amery told investigators he had spoken with Erickson about his inability to deal with people. He warned Erickson that the resulting conflict and division were hurting his Hudson parish.

The Rev. John Anderson of Ladysmith, who was Erickson's senior pastor for about a year, said he was surprised that Erickson hanged himself because the young priest believed suicide was a "mortal sin."

Drummy also noted that Erickson, a strong believer in the more conservative church doctrine that prevailed before the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council, thought anyone who committed suicide was going to hell.

Rask said Erickson seemed to adopt more traditional or orthodox views between his junior and senior seminary years. That is when he began wearing a cassock. Rask said Erickson was "not smart enough" to preach about complex pre-Vatican II practices and it was clear that he "didn't know what he was talking about."

The file released Thursday also contains dispatcher transcripts, including a call to police when the bodies of intern James Ellison, 22, and mortician Dan O'Connell, 39, were found Feb. 5, 2002, at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home. Among other items were the detailed autopsies of the two victims, who were shot to death; witness statements; and polygraph results for two of the witnesses, who were found to be "truthful."

Among others interviewed was Patricia Brandner, former principal of the school affiliated with St. Patrick's Catholic Church, where O'Connell was a parishioner. Brandner told investigators she had a good relationship with Erickson until primarily theological issues arose. She also had conflicts with the priest's followers.

She said Erickson told her he had done "some terrible things" but did not offer details.

After a confrontation with one of Erickson's followers, Brandner tried and failed to reach Erickson's parish supervisors and the Diocese of Superior. She resigned the week of the murders.

Those followers also were mentioned to investigators by someone whose name was not released. This person said many in the parish thought Erickson's followers considered him a Messiah and that they were "extreme and very fringe radicals."

The unnamed person asked for extra police protection at the school because of concerns that the followers were capable of violence.

Several people interviewed said Erickson's behavior became more unusual after the murders.

Brandner said she saw Erickson crying often at the altar in the months following the deaths.

And several parishioners who attended the 6 p.m. Mass on Feb. 5, the day of the murders, said Erickson's behavior was bizarre.

Laura Becker attended the Mass, which was said for her late husband. She sat in disbelief as Erickson began speaking from the pulpit.

Erickson, she said, "was very agitated and acted strange." During the homily he spoke of "cutting off the breasts of Agatha," which Becker said was inappropriate and seemed to have no context.

He also asked parishioners to "pray for the O'Connell family," but made no mention of Ellison.

Kevin Harter can be reached at or 800-950-9080, ext. 2149.


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