Longtime critic of Minnesota archdiocese adopts name of undertaker allegedly slain by gay priest in his fight against local church officials
ST. PAUL, Minn. Relatives of a slain funeral home director are objecting to the use of his name for a group trying to fight homosexuality in the Roman Catholic Church.
Dr. David Pence, a longtime critic of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, recently formed the Dan O’Connell Society to fight what he considers a “gay culture” in the church.
But relatives of O’Connell, who was killed in 2002, allegedly by Wisconsin priest Ryan Erickson, are threatening legal action unless Pence stops using O’Connell’s name.
The goal of Pence’s group, according to its founding documents and Web site, is to “rebuild masculine fraternity among Catholic laymen and priests” and to seek the ouster of church officials and priests who embrace the “ideology or practice of the “‘gay cult”’ it contends exists within the church.
Church officials vehemently denied that any such subculture exists in the archdiocese.
It’s not clear how many members Pence has enlisted. He has called a public meeting of his group for April 11 and said he would issue a “white paper” before Easter detailing the “polluted diocesan priesthood.”
This is not the first time Pence has squared off against the archdiocese. Two years ago, he led a group of men who tried to block gay-rights supporters from receiving Holy Communion at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
O’Connell’s survivors object to his name being linked to Pence’s goals.
“It was painful for us to see, and I don’t like that he’s taken my brother’s name for his own personal cause,” said Tom O’Connell Jr. “His agenda is not ours.”
A lawyer for the O’Connell family wrote to Pence last week asking him to stop using Dan O’Connell’s name and photo on Pence’s Web site.
“It’s wrong, and we are giving him a chance. If he doesn’t stop, we’ll take action,” said Jeff Anderson, their St. Paul attorney.
As of Monday, Dan O’Connell’s picture was gone from the Web site and the group was now calling itself the “docsociety,” but O’Connell’s name was still all over it, along with a disclaimer saying:
“The docsociety is not in any way endorsed or affiliated with the Dan O’Connell family or his relatives. … We apologize to the Dan O’Connell family if any of our efforts bring them pain or in any way hamper their own efforts to gain justice. Nothing on these pages should be considered the position of the O’Connell family who are speaking for themselves in other forums.”
Authorities believe Dan O’Connell had confronted or was about to confront Erickson with allegations of sexual abuse. O’Connell, 39, and funeral home intern James Ellison, 22, were shot to death in February 2002 at the O’Connell mortuary in Hudson, Wis. While Erickson, who hanged himself in December 2004, denied any part in the killings, a Wisconsin judge ruled last fall that he was likely responsible.
Pence, a physician from Mankato who works in the Twin Cities, said he used O’Connell’s name, “because we think his murder was a kind of martyrdom. He went to a predator and told him, “‘You’re a predator,’ and he was killed for being a Catholic layman, a father who felt he had some duty to protect a kid who was not his own kid.”
Pence said he started asking himself why Erickson was allowed to become a priest.
“Why was the seminary so incapable of judging this man, who turned out to be a murderer? Is there something so wrong with our culture that he could be graduated as a father?” Pence said.
He said he concluded a widespread acceptance of homosexuality is the culprit.
“I contend that if you’re in a system which is blatantly being built up around deceit and corruption,” Pence said, “then a person who is fairly corrupt and deceitful can probably make it in that system because there’s no truth system to check him.”
Officials with the archdiocese were critical of Pence’s campaign.
“Dr. Pence is on some kind of mission of his own, and he has knitted together these charges and rumors of different kinds into some kind of whole, and he’s trying to use them to ride on the coattails of a horrible tragedy,” archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath said. “We shouldn’t even have to dignify it by responding.”
The Rev. Kevin McDonough, vicar general and the target of some of Pence’s criticism because he oversees the operations of the archdiocese, said he has actively opposed any “subculture” in the church and said none exists in the Twin Cities.
“He has an ideology that he stitches together, pieces of which may make sense, but the facts point in a different direction,” McDonough said. “I don’t believe in this archdiocese there has ever been an active subculture of homosexual priests who were sexually active and justifying their behavior.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 31, 2006.