Merrill police investigate two more claims of abuse by former Catholic priest
By Laura Schulte
Wausau Daily Herald
January 29, 2019
|Former Catholic priest Thomas Ericksen looks back on the gallery during a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, December 12, 2018, at the Sawyer County courthouse in Hayward, Wis. Ericksen is accused of sexually assaulting three children between June 1982 and April 1983. (Photo: |
Photo by Tork Mason
Police in Merrill are investigating at least two more sexual assault allegations against a former Wisconsin priest who already has been charged with molesting four young males in Sawyer County.
The latest complaints stem from the former Rev. Thomas Ericksen's time at St. Robert's Catholic Church in Merrill in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Merrill Police Chief Corey Bennett confirmed his department is investigating cases involving Ericksen but declined to comment on the nature of the offenses.
Ericksen, 71, is being held in the Sawyer County Jail in Hayward on a $510,000 cash bond while facing charges that he sexually assaulted boys while he was stationed in the town of Winter in the early 1980s.
The Catholic Diocese of Superior transferred Ericksen from Merrill to St. Peter's Catholic Church in Winter in July 1982, according to Wausau Daily Herald archives. He's facing one count of first-degree sexual assault of a child, one count of second-degree sexual assault of a child and two counts of second-degree sexual assault of an unconscious victim. He was arrested in Minneapolis on Nov. 16 and extradited to Hayward, the county seat of Sawyer County, on Nov. 30.
One of the Sawyer County cases involves a Merrill man who told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin that Ericksen developed a friendly relationship with him when he was a boy in Merrill, then fondled him when he visited the priest at his new rectory in Winter. The man said Ericksen had not sexually assaulted him while stationed in Merrill.
Bennett said that no charges have yet been filed in Merrill but that the department has been investigating since November. According to public documents from Ericksen's Sawyer County cases, "two separate and distinct individuals" have reported to Merrill police that Ericksen sexually assaulted them while he was stationed there.
If Merrill police decide that charges are warranted, they will refer the case to the Lincoln County district attorney to consider filing a criminal complaint, Bennett said.
Ericksen served in Merrill as a chaplain at Holy Cross Hospital from 1979 to 1982, according to clergy-abuse tracking site bishopaccountability.org. Two men who accused Ericksen of inappropriate contact said that he also helped officiate Masses at churches in Merrill.
The Superior Diocese listed Ericksen as absent on sick leave from 1983 until 1987, and then removed him from the priesthood in 1988, according to bishopaccountability.org.
In the court documents, Sawyer County sheriff's investigator Bryan Deyo wrote that "a resonable inference exists that the church knew of the allegations and relocated (Ericksen) on several occasions." Diocese officials weren't in the office Tuesday afternoon to comment on that claim.
The Sawyer County Sheriff's Department investigated Ericksen as far back as 1983, when he admitted to investigators that he "had a problem," according to a department report from that year. Instead of seeking criminal charges, the sheriff's office allowed then-Superior Bishop George Albert Hammes to handle the priest, according to the report.
Ericksen also admitted to investigators in 2016 that he had inappropriate contact with boys in Rice Lake and Rhinelander, in addition to Winter, according to court documents. No charges have been filed against him in Rice Lake or Rhinelander.
Based on Ericksen's admissions, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin sources and other documents, the former priest is reported to have had sexual encounters with at least 11 boys in Wisconsin during his time in the clergy.
Ericksen is expected to next appear in Sawyer County Circuit Court on Feb.1 for a preliminary hearing on the most recent charge filed against him Jan. 11, though his attorney has filed for a substitution ofjudge, which may delay proceedings.
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.