Monday, December 12, 2005


What They Want To Hear

A lot of people wonder how a third of America could still back Bush despite the mounting and unavoidable evidence that his junta is both corrupt and incompetent. I think that, in a news story out of Wisconsin -- an old story with a twist -- there may be an answer. On February 5, 2002, two men, Daniel O'Connell and James Ellison, were found dead inside O'Connell's funeral home in Hudson, Wisconsin, a small resort town and bedroom community for the Minneapolis and St. Paul metropolitan area twenty miles to the west. Both men had both been shot to death. There were no signs of forced entry, indicating that the two men knew their killer or killers and were not expecting any violence from them. Speculation ran rife as to who could have killed the men in what seemed to be an inexplicable crime. The 39-year-old O'Connell was one of the most popular persons in town, a civic leader in Hudson who was honest and above board in all his dealings. Ellison was a 22-year-old mortuary intern who had led a similarly blameless life. Yet this didn't stop all sorts of rumors and innuendoes from swirling around the two dead men: It was a gang hit. Mexicans did it. Blacks did it. Hmong gangsters did it. Druglords did it. A local Catholic priest, Father Ryan Erickson, even suggested that the Mafia did it. Fast forward to December 21, 2004. This same Father Erickson would be found dead by his own hand, hung by the neck from the rafters of his own church, shortly after being questioned by the police in connection with the murders. He left some notes, and some persons claimed he'd told them that he was wanted by the police right before he killed himself. Now, it turns out that Fr. Erickson was one of O'Connell's few actual enemies. Erickson, who was in his late twenties at the time of the murders, was a young, charismatic archconservative priest with a growing and passionately devoted following in the heavily-Catholic town. He had a taste for extreme histrionics in the pulpit, including bawling like a baby -- histrionics so extreme that many thoughtful persons, O'Connell included, were more than a little put off by them. So O'Connell, and some other persons, did some digging into Fr. Erickson's past. And they didn't like what they found. The following is from an article in the 12/10/05 Minneapolis StarTribune:

Now, even as new details of Erickson's life are emerging, there are still no clear answers as to how a priest could kill. But those who know him, some of whom are speaking publicly for the first time, say he lived playing very different roles for different audiences. • As a youngster, Erickson was so deferential and respectful to adults that many in the town where he grew up can't imagine him as a killer. Yet some of the kids he grew up with remember his cruelty toward animals, his drinking and his ill-tempered outbursts when adults weren't around. Erickson himself told police investigators that he bullied people in high school. • At seminaries in Winona, Minn., and St. Paul, he is remembered for his conservative philosophies and opinions about how priests should behave. Yet he was asked during those years to undergo special psychological evaluations at least twice and, after a trip to Israel, an assessment for alcoholism. • As a priest working with young people in Hudson, he spoke out harshly against homosexuality, masturbation and premarital sex, yet there were allegations of sexual impropriety in 1992 involving a teenage boy in northern Wisconsin. In 1994, Bishop Raphael Fliss of the Diocese of Superior, Wis., knew about those allegations, but said that any restrictions placed on Erickson were lifted two years later, before he entered the St. Paul Seminary. At a hearing Oct. 3 -- which led to St. Croix County Judge Eric Lundell's ruling that Erickson was the likely killer of Dan O'Connell, 39, and James Ellison, 22, on Feb. 5, 2002 -- a college student said that Erickson fondled him as many as 10 times while a priest in Hudson.
In addition, Erickson was also a confirmed gun fancier with an extensive collection, and who carried a pistol at all times, even under his cassock at church. But despite all of this, he still has his rabid defenders, as this excerpt from a City Pages article shows:

The closing of the case will come as a great relief to most of Hudson's citizens, but Father Ryan's hard-core supporters will find it difficult to accept. When pressed, these people will admit that "the hanged priest" hung himself, but they also hint at a mysterious martyrdom. In death as in life he remains a divisive figure, either murdered or hounded to an early grave by demonic liberals according to his devotees; dead of a self-imposed penance after a subconsciously compelled confession according to his critics.

One of his followers, Darla Meyers, has become a regular on right-wing talk shows and the far-right print media, where she frequently invokes the memory of Father Ryan during her discussions of abortion. Meyers is the gatekeeper of a secretive website devoted to Erickson's memory. Anyone can get to the home page at, but only the chosen make it into the messages section, where Erickson's disciples share their memories of the man who had such an impact on their lives. Requests for a password to the inner sanctum are answered with a query: How did you know Father? Journalists are not welcome.

A similar pro-Erickson site can be found here, though it's not been updated in a while and the last few comments are from anti-Erickson readers, posted in October when the judge's ruling came down stating that Erickson almost certainly murdered O'Connell and Ellison. So what's the point of all this? There are several, actually: -- Scratch a homophobe, find a closet case and/or a pedophile: A 1996 controlled study of 64 heterosexual (by experience and self-reported orientation) men at the University of Georgia found the allegedly homophobic men considerably more likely to experience more erectile response when exposed to homoerotic images than non-homophobic men. Granted, arousal often happens during times of stress, not necessarily due to erotic stimuli. But with prominent conservative homophobes such as James West, Philip Giordano, Randy Cunningham, David Dreier and Ed Schrock (to name just the ones that spring readily to my mind) being outed as either gay and/or as pedophiles, the circumstantial evidence seems pretty darned strong that there's a connection. -- People hear what they want to hear. Ryan Erickson was good at appealing to those people whose good opinion he needed, and very good at saying what they wanted to hear. -- Ryan Erickson was not quite so good at actually being a good Christian. Then again, that could be said of a lot of his followers. People who could readily believe that Ryan Erickson was framed for the murders and then was murdered himself would have no trouble pulling the levers for George W. Bush.

Yeah, this is a good story, PW.

The actions of the right-wing just reek of guilt. In many cases, it's well-deserved. So many people would be alive were it not for the murderous policies they push, both in the economic and in the "national security" realm.

Laura Rozen has a good piece connecting the bribery scandals to the intelligence scandals. The third leg is the sexual scandals such as randy "Duke" Cunningham. Your post bears on that.
Waiiiiit. A priest who packs heat?

That's a sign right there that something is wrong. Everybody knew about it and his bishop didn't do anything about it?

Oh, well.


This is the Catholic Church.

Everyone knowing about it and the bishop doing nothing is SOP.
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