07 October 2005

A reassigned Catholic priest on a crusade of sexual moralizing, who was found to have child pornography on his computer when police searched his home on the day before he hung himself; an exhuberant, ultra-conservative preacher who embarrassed half of his traditionalist congregation with overly-evangelical praise and enthusiasm when consecrating the host, leading to a parish divide between the “holy-rolling” “kneelers” and the more restrained, community-pillar “standers”; one such community-pillar “stander” killed in his funeral home business after discovering the manic priest’s sexual sins; an allegedly closeted gay man obsessed with the mortal sin of masturbation, defended even now by the rabidly-homophobic brutes of the “macho right.” The Minnesota-based City Pages’ report on the life and death of Father Ryan Erickson — unfortunately, but inevitably titled, “The Sins of the Father” — has all the makings of pulp drama, and not a little moralizing of its own: this is a story of bad religion, hypocritical religion, and not least, tacky religion. It’s a bed-time story not so much for secularists, but for “reasonable people,” who identify with the conservative, minimalist beliefs of the funeral director-victim, and know the real villain in the story isn’t Father Erickson, but the hand-waving, tongue-talking excess that characterized him and his band of “born-again” Catholic followers. Even as such a genre-story though, and an obviously slanted one at that, the article, by Bruce Rubenstein, does offer a window into the larger questions and alliances and compromises involving religion and society, shown here in the microcosm of one Catholic parish, where in the words of one of the priest’s supporters, the fight came down to “10 percent with us, 10 percent opposed, and the rest pretty uninvolved.” Or in Rubenstein’s summary, the chasm between people who saw a howling madman, and those who saw the holy passion of a man of God. –Joyce