Superior Diocese details convicted sex offender Thomas Ericksen's time as priest
By Laura Schulte
Wausau Daily Herald
November 18, 2019
|Former Catholic priest Thomas Ericksen consults with defense attorney Ryan Reid during a sentencing hearing on Thursday, September 26, 2019, at Sawyer County Courthouse in Hayward, Wis. Ericksen was sentenced to a total of 30 years in prison on two counts of sexual assault of a child. Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin|
Photo by Tork Mason
The Catholic Diocese of Superior has released new details about convicted sex offender Thomas Ericksen's time as a priest in northern Wisconsin.
The Catholic Herald, which is published by the diocese, on Thursday put out a story addressing the former priest's time with the diocese and his sentencing in September.
The article also said the Superior diocese has hired a law firm to review allegations of sexual abuse by other priests, and expects to release that information next year.
Ericksen was sentenced on Sept. 26 to 30 years in prison for molesting young boys in the 1980s. He pleaded no contest to two charges of abuse, but, in all, at least 11 men claimed they were abused by him, either by filing reports with police or in speaking with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.
He is serving his sentence at the Dodge Correctional Facility in Waupun, where he was moved from the Sawyer County jail in Hayward on Oct. 22, according to Wisconsin Department of Corrections records.
The former priest was arrested in November 2018, eight years after victims first approached Sawyer County investigators with their stories.
Ericksen was ordained in 1973 in Phillips, according to the article, and worked as an associate pastor, chaplain and pastor during his decade as a priest. He served in 10 churches over 10 years: Rice Lake, Cumberland, Ladysmith-Bruce, Superior, Hudson, River Falls, Webster, Eagle River, Merrill and Winter.
Bishop James P. Powers told a reporter for the Catholic Herald that it was common for priests to be moved that often during the 1970s and '80s, the article said, and until a review of diocesan files is complete, there's no way to know when former Bishop George Albert Hammes, knew about the ongoing abuse. The article also stated that, at the time Ericksen was a member of the clergy, child abuse was thought of as more of a sin than a criminal offense.
"Therapists believed pedophiles could be rehabilitated and advised bishops accordingly," the article said. "Thus, bishops moved problem priests from parish to parish, thinking they could be cured through therapy and then plugged back into the ministry."
The diocese did know about the abuse by 1983, though, when the Sawyer County Sheriff's Department investigated a claim of abuse. At that time, investigators released Ericksen to Hammes, the bishop, after the priest confessed that he "had a problem."
The article also highlights the settlements the diocese paid out over the years, including payments to some of Ericksen's victims in Winter. According to the report, the diocese has paid $75,000 in legal fees and settlement costs, and insurance paid out about $550,000 in fees and settlements. The article states that the previously reported amount of $3 million in settlements is incorrect, but could be explained by annuities with the potential for growth, which was a "common way to structure settlements for minors."
The diocese is conducting an internal review of its files, with help from Defenbaugh & Associates Inc., a Texas law firm that has also reviewed files of abuse in four of the five Wisconsin dioceses, the article said. The review has been underway since early 2019, but any release of names won't happen until early 2020, the article said.
In Wisconsin, so far only two dioceses have completed reviews and released lists of known abusive clergy members, following a national push for more honesty from the church. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee released its list in 2004, but attorneys for victims say more than 100 other clergy members are named in 2011 bankruptcy filings, which are still under seal. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy after several claims of abuse were brought forward, finally settling for $21 million with 330 victims in 2015.
The Diocese of Green Bay also released a list of names earlier this year, with 48 accused, 15 of whom are still alive.
The Diocese of Madison announced June 12 that a firm was hired to help with an internal review, but those results have not yet been released. The La Crosse Diocese is also reviewing files and expects to release results in the near future.
Dan Blank, director of administrative services for the Diocese of Superior, did not respond to a request for an interview Monday morning regarding the release of names and the settlement amounts.