Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Former Superior diocese priest accused of rape

Published June 30 2010
Former Superior diocese priest accused of rape
Paul Eck said he thought his priest, the Rev. Tom Ericksen, was doing him a favor in 1983 when Eck was 17 and coming back from a high school homecoming party.
By: Brandon Stahl, Duluth News Tribune

Paul Eck said he thought his priest, the Rev. Tom Ericksen, was doing him a favor in 1983 when Eck was 17 and coming back from a high school homecoming party.

About a year earlier, Ericksen had taken over as minister for St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Winter, Wis., about 100 miles southeast of Superior and a part of the Superior diocese. The priest and Eck had developed a friendship, Eck said, and Ericksen often let the high schooler borrow his car.

Eck was drunk when he brought the car back that night, he said, and Ericksen told him that rather than go home and face his parents, he could sleep it off in his spare bedroom.

That night, Eck said, Ericksen raped him.

A month later, Eck said, Ericksen was caught assaulting two boys in a rectory. One of the boys, James Eck, was Paul’s nephew.

Court records provided by Paul Eck show that Ericksen and the Superior diocese settled a lawsuit with Paul and James Eck for nearly $3 million in 1989. The year before, Ericksen was officially removed from the priesthood, according to the Superior diocese.

But Ericksen was never criminally charged with molestation, nor was he ever identified as a sex offender.

The Ecks want that to change. They are coming forward to talk about the alleged assault and demand that Wisconsin authorities extradite Ericksen back to the state to face criminal charges.

“This is not about money,” said Paul Eck, who is now a truck driver still living in Winter. “I want to see him in court answering to this, and I want to see him behind bars.”

No word from District attorney

It’s unclear whether Wisconsin has the right to prosecute Ericksen. While the statute of limitations has expired for sexual assault, there is an exception if the alleged perpetrator moved out of the state.

“It stops the clock,” said Kevin St. John, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office.

Ericksen moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota in 1983, according to his MySpace page.

However, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is considering an appeal by a Jesuit priest who was convicted in 2006 of assaulting two teenagers in the late 1960s.

Sawyer County District Attorney Thomas Van Roy, the person who would make the decision about charging Ericksen, refused to comment this week to the News Tribune. An assistant at the office said Van Roy’s policy is never to speak to the media.

Paul Eck said he has e-mailed the Sawyer County District Attorney’s Office three times since the beginning of the year but has yet to get a response. Still, he remains undeterred.

“He needs to be taken off the streets because he’s a pedophile,” Paul Eck said of Ericksen. “I guarantee you that there are people before and after me that have been molested. This is not all of a sudden something you do in a short amount of time.”

James Eck said he was 8 or 9 when Ericksen started touching him sexually. It happened at least a dozen times, maybe more, he said, starting almost immediately after Ericksen took over at the church.

“He made you feel like it was supposed to be that way,” said James Eck, who now lives in Kaukauna, Wis., and works as a prison corrections officer. “When someone like that is doing it, you trust them. At that age, you don’t know any better.”

Ex-priest describes himself

When contacted by the News Tribune, Ericksen initially said he had no comment.

“That’s all been taken care of in the courts,” he said.

When told about the Ecks’ demand for extradition, Ericksen responded, “I thought that was all settled.”

When asked if he admitted or denied the accusations, “I have no comment.”

“I thought it was all settled,” he said. “It was 30 years ago, for Pete’s sake.”

Asked again if he denied the accusations, Ericksen said, “Yes.”

Ericksen has posted detailed biographies of himself on the social and professional networking sites MySpace and LinkedIn, listing his e-mail address and MySpace handle as “saint_tom.”

He lists himself as a graduate of St. Francis Seminary and a “Holy Reverend Priest of God” from 1973 to 1983, the same year Paul Eck alleges he was molested.

Ericksen writes that he moved to Minneapolis and worked at AT&T as a customer service specialist for 20 years before relocating to Kansas City, where he lists himself as working for the Census.

Ericksen’s resumes indicate that he has been a member of AT&T’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employee association; that he was a hospital chaplain at Holy Cross Hospital in Merrill, Wis., a former board member for a group called “Lutherans Concerned,” a member of the Games Management Team at the Special Olympics, and a secretary/board member for the Sons of Norway.

Though the Superior diocese was listed as a defendant in the lawsuits the Ecks filed and settled in 1989, the bishop of the diocese at the time, Raphael Fliss, said he remembers only Ericksen’s name and nothing about the settlement.

“I didn’t have much dealing with him,” Fliss said. “That was so long ago.”

He declined further comment.

Current Bishop of the Diocese of Superior Peter Christiansen said in a statement that he has “no personal knowledge of the events that took place 20 years ago. I also have no current information concerning Tom Erickson [sic].”

Without treatment, the chance that a child molester will reoffend is at least 50 percent, said A.W. Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former monk who has written several books about clergy sexual issues and studied hundreds of cases dealing with mental health problems of priests.

“It’s almost hard-wired in them,” he said. “You won’t find an expert who will say it’s curable. … It’s like real alcoholism. It’s controllable but not curable.”

Christensen said that, because of the terms of the settlement, he is prohibited from discussing the case.

Ericksen is the eighth Superior diocese priest publicly accused of inappropriate or illegal sexual conduct. Previously accused, according to the website Bishop-Accountability.org, are Edward F. Beutner, Ryan Erickson, Irving Klister, David Malsch, Robert Urban and Henry Willenborg.

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