Superior Diocese Cooperating with Ericksen Probe; to Release List of Other Abusive Priests
By Laura Schulte
Wausau Daily Herald
January 25, 2019
|St. Peter's Catholic Church in Winter, Wisconsin on Nov. 19, 2018. (Photo: Laura Schulte/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)|
The Catholic Diocese of Superior says it is cooperating with officials investigating the case of a priest accused of assaulting minors the 1980s.
Dan Blank, the diocese's director of administrative services, told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin that the diocese was an intermediary in the reporting of a case filed Jan. 11 accusing former priest Thomas Ericksen of sexual assault of an unconscious victim.
Blank said the victim came to the diocese, which immediately recommended contacting law enforcement in Sawyer County.
|Ericksen (Photo: Courtesy of Hennepin County)|
Ericksen, who is now 71, was arrested on Nov. 16 in Minneapolis. He faces four separate charges stemming from his time at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Winter: two charges of second-degree assault of an unconscious victim, one count of first-degree sexual assault of a child and one count of second-degree sexual assault of a child.
Ericksen was a priest in Rice Lake, Rhinelander and Merrill before he transferred to Winter.
Sawyer County investigators, who had looked into complaints about Ericksen in 1983, renewed their probe in 2010 after learning of more alleged assaults. Police obtained a confession from him in 2016, when he admitted to investigators that he had "fondled" three boys in Winter, as well as two boys in other Wisconsin cities, according to the criminal complaint.
The diocese has received a subpoena for documents, according to online court documents.
Blank said church officials will help the investigation in any way that they can.
"Our intent is to cooperate," he said of the Ericksen case. "We want victims to get their justice, and we're doing our part by cooperating."
The diocese also is beginning to work toward opening an investigation of their own, looking into abusive priests, both alive and dead, within the diocese. Blank said Bishop James Powers, has been conferring with Archdiocese of Milwaukee for advice on how to conduct the investigation, but it will likely be months before the diocese releases a list of names.
Milwaukee was the first diocese in the state, in 2004, to make public a list of priests known to have committed assaults. The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay released a similar list last week.
The investigation will span the entire history of the Superior Diocese, and will look critically at documents kept by the church, Blank said.
"We're taking the approach that facts are facts," he said.
Blank said Bishop Powers has taken a strong no cover-up stance that includes working with law enforcement and helping victims of abuse by clergy.
"(Powers) wants to be an active partner in victim healing," Blank said. "And we want to treat victims with dignity and respect."
New judge in Ericksen case
Meanwhile, court action on all four cases came to a standstill this week after Ericksen's defense attorney, Ryan Reid, filed a motion seeking to replace presiding Sawyer County Judge John Yackel with a new judge.
Reid filed the motion on Monday, which means that he is unable to hear arguments while the motion is pending. As a result, an arraignment hearing in three of the open cases has been postponed until a new judge is named.
Reid did not reply to a request for comment on the request for a new judge.
All defendants have the right to request a substitute for any reason.Patricia Bradford, an associate professor at the Marquette University School of Law.
Typically, she said, the chief judge in the county would name the replacement judge, but the decision in the Erickson case will be handled by the Director of State Courts because there is only one judge in Sawyer County.
Tom Sheehan, spokesman for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, that a new judge will be selected from within the northwestern Wisconsin judicial district that includes Sawyer County. The new judge, Sheehan said, will hear the cases in Sawyer County.
Laura Schulte is a reporter based at the Wausau Daily Herald. If you have any information about this case or other cases involving clergy abuse in Wisconsin that have not been reported, you may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 715-496-4088.