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Just a note before we get started, this episode might have some language that is not appropriate for all listeners. The stories I had heard about Father Ryan raised more questions than they answered. How did he get away with conning so many people and why is he not in jail? I needed to find someone who knew the man, not the priest he'd become. And I did. Jonathan Brady knows all too well the damage Father Ryan's lies can cause, and he's pretty pissed off.
He swears a lot.
You've got some douchebag walking around telling your fucking grandma, taking her confession, giving her communion, making her believe that her path to heaven and salvation is there. Just follow me. Give me some money.
Jonathan has talked to a lot of people tricked into thinking Father Ryan was an ordained Catholic priest.
This man spreads pain on levels that just fuckin astound me.
Jonathan never wanted to become an expert on Father Ryan's comments.
He never chose to follow him. He was stuck with him from the start. You see, Father Ryan is his dad. I had to know I needed to know why the fuck did you throw me the fuck away? From now on her media, I'm Alex Schoeman and this is Smokescreen Fake Priest. More than happy to take a DNA test, and I know I do with bells on, if I ever came down to the first time I talked to Jonathan Brady was over the phone.
My God, Boyd, I've seen too much of the dark side of Catholicism and organized religion in general.
I was in New York City and he was in Alabama. Jonathan doesn't deny the accusations against Father Ryan. He was a con man, a thief. It's the opposite.
He wants as many people as possible to know what he's found. He's been trying to understand his dad's life and in turn his for more than three decades, ever since he was 12.
A person who's played a big part in helping him track information down is to bar me and Vida have been literally trying to piece together my life because of what happened this the way in it that had just happened.
Vitaphone Jonathan, after she learned more about who Father Ryan really was back in the summer of 2000, after she escaped from the Holy Rosary, Abbey and Pocahontas, she stopped trying to be a religious and a traditionalist church. Instead, she started digging into Father Ryan's con.
I found out that he was not a priest and that that he had been in trouble in Edgerton, Wisconsin.
Eventually, she found Jonathan and introduced him to me.
Can you hear me? Yes, OK. Much better. Yeah, I heard a little bit about you. What can I do for you?
Well, I'm working on the part about before he started to pretend to be a priest in the 70s and 80s. And so so I'll said the key word right there.
He clearly wanted to tell his story, but I'm more than willing to do a sit down interview. This was my best chance to understand who Father Ryan was before he ran the Holy Rosary Abbey. Maybe something in his past could explain why he'd pretend to be a priest.
I wanted some personal justice in my life, but now with all these people aged over, it's not about me.
It's about actual justice, actual justice.
Jonathan wanted to make sure Father Ryan's day of reckoning was near. I had to meet this guy, so I hopped on an airplane, flew to Nashville, rented a car and drove the nearly two hours down to Jonathan's apartment.
I pictured somewhere smaller, but the town where he lives has a population of about 40000. Someone told me the values here are God, family and football, but they don't always come in that order.
OK, he says he's here.
He lives on the outskirts of town, not far from an industrial park. The driveway is long and lined with tall pine trees. You pull into a parking lot in the middle of five brick buildings.
Let's get out. Jonathan's place is up on the second floor. He met me out front and shook my hand. Hey, welcome to. Inside his apartment, it's your usual bachelor pad, except the mess in the corner isn't a stack of beer cans or empty pizza boxes. It's a bunch of acrylic paint. The counter is covered with small tubes of paint, every color you can think of, two big paintings he's working on are hanging on his living room wall.
I never know what I'm going to do when I start.
I just start to see where it goes and things just pop.
The biggest is of an owl backlit by a massive moon. Jonathan has this constant drive to create.
I have to get the emotion out one way or another. Either I do it through words, writing, clay, steel, but fuck ya, I mean anything. If I don't get it out, then I just go batshit crazy for a while and I don't like that. So I'd rather just, you know, sit there, crank tunes and just start painting shortcuts.
Jonathan doesn't talk about the things he's going to be talking to me about often to help him get through it. He decides we need to distract ourselves. He'll talk, sure. But on one condition. Whenever I ask him an extra hard question, I have to take a shot of vodka before he'll answer. So what kind of consciousness?
The cheapest fucking shit you can get in this state. Aristocrat's. It's nasty. He wasn't kidding. We were drinking some straight, nasty vodka. He had the full bottle with the cap off on the coffee table between us. I sat in a chair and he was on the couch. Jonathan seemed nervous, but not in the way most people are when you come into their house with microphones. He wasn't nervous because he wasn't sure what to say. He was nervous because he knew exactly how dark and deep his story gets.
Jonathan's life hasn't been easy. I have gaps in memory that span years and the shit I do remember, I wish to fucking God I did.
He was born in 1972 with the name John Stocks, you might remember that at that time Father Ryan was going by a different name to Randall Dean stocks. When Jonathan was three, his dad and mom divorced. According to the divorce papers, Father Ryan got custody. Then Jonathan tells me he got shuffled around.
I was bounced from home to home to home, and it wasn't in the foster care system. It was with people he met. Strange, that's one of the things that made it hard for him to figure out his past. He doesn't think his dad used the proper channels for foster care and eventually he gave up Jonathan for adoption. It's not clear if that was on the up and up either.
But by now it's clear to me why Jonathan has to take shots when he talks about his childhood. His parents got divorced, but that's not what made him feel so messed up. It's that his dad got custody and then neglected him and then started leaving him with strangers, some of whom hurt him.
I understand every definition of the word, physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse. I know what I still carry the fucking scars.
At age nine, Jonathan gets adopted by a single woman, her mom and dad. Jonathan's now adoptive grandparents, played a big part in his life.
Fred Brady was the one man who took a wild fucking kid damn near feral kid and gave him books and gave him room to fuck and run. I mean I mean, this guy handed me a fucking bow and arrow and 30 acres of land in upstate Arizona. And said, go run, this stability would only last a few years when he was 12, his grandparents passed away. That's when out of nowhere, Father Ryan showed back up in Jonathan's life and tried to get custody of him.
He failed and disappeared without explanation. Can you imagine how that would make you feel as a kid? Then something unexpected happened. His adopted mom moved them from Arizona to Seattle, and during the move, somehow there was a safe that my adoptive mother I don't know if the lock slipped or what, but I found a copy of divorce papers and it had my dad's name and had then it had another name. A biological Mother's Day. How old were you in that have?
I was 11, OK. And it just can you didn't remember her at all? No, no, I never know. I had no no idea who the fuck my mother was. I had no recollection, nothing? No, no clue whatsoever.
Jonathan now had at least some information to work from.
And I read through the papers and then I just started hunting. I wanted to know what the fuck happened. He goes about five years searching and then all of a sudden fucking Apple River, Illinois, pops in my my head. That's where Father Ryan grew up, Apple River, Illinois. It's a small town of less than 400, the town where his adoptive family lived. Yep, just like Jonathan Father Ryan had been adopted to. And it was his adoptive grandmother in Apple River who introduces Ryan to the Catholic Church.
It's strange to think that if he'd never been adopted, he might not have become Father Ryan. Jonathan doesn't remember what made him think of Apple River. Memories can be tricky like that. One day it just came back to him. So I start calling information. I get every stock snake in Apple River, Illinois, and start calling him going. This is going to sound really fucked up, but my name is Jonathan and on twenty third call I got a hold of my aunt Tara.
And she said, who the fuck are you? I said, my name is Jonathan, might have known me as John. I am looking for my biological father, Ryan Scott. Do you know him, in fact, she did.
Jonathan had finally found the right family two hours later I got a phone call and it was him. Wow, what did he say? What's going on? Hi. It wasn't it wasn't a hostile meeting, it was it was just it was more of a shock.
Here was the guy who'd vanished from his life twice and they were just having a nice conversation for Jonathan. It felt surreal.
And that's where this shit really starts to get fun. I know nothing about hello, fresh. I never tried a meal delivery service until my boyfriend and I opened the box from Hello Fresh. So these are meatballs and I am not a cook, but hello Fresh makes it all really easy.
They designed the directions in a way that makes following the recipe simple.
I can see how this would save so much time.
I tell you, it's all just here, ready and healthy. All of this smells pretty delicious so far.
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Jonathan went to see his dad for the first time since he'd been adopted. It was 1991 where Jonathan was headed.
Black River Falls is in southeast Wisconsin. It's home to the whole Chunk Nation. They're also called the Winnebago tribe. At that time, Father Ryan wasn't Father Ryan yet. Instead, he was Ryan Scott and he was a finance director for the tribe. That's right, before he ever opened a church as a priest, Ryan handled money for a Native American tribe that operates multiple casinos when he was getting off that Greyhound bus. Jonathan thought of his dad as a successful guy.
He was actually very nice. I mean, I got a tour of the offices of the Winnebago. He introduced me as his son. I mean, I'd almost on an emotional level, I felt I might have found home. Jonathan moves in. How old are you? I think I was 17, 18 ish.
Brian gives him a little loft space in the a frame house he has on the river.
And I mean, he seems like the coolest fucking dude on the planet when you meet him.
I mean, just flat out, OK, dude's got a house on the river. There's a dock. You want to go swimming? It's hot. You go jump in the river. Cool dude makes money and damn his office workers are hot.
OK, I'm getting back in high school. Shit might be looking up. He's got a car and he's letting me fucking drive. The fuck did I just landed ok.
And then I start asking questions, Jonathan wanted to know, why did his parents get divorced? How did he end up living with strangers instead of them? Something was off.
He didn't tell me the truth. He didn't do the things that he told me what happened with between him and my mother. Never added up because I asked questions I had to Father Ryan would purrfect this kind of stonewalling over the years, but by then he already seemed good at putting the truth in a box. He could bury it deep. So when his son Jonathan turned up, he didn't miss a beat. He didn't act like anything was wrong, but once Jonathan started pressing him with all these questions, he gave him vague, nonsensical answers, hoping it would shut the teenager up.
But Jonathan decided to not just rely on his dad's word.
I'm not just going to ask him questions. I'm going to ask everybody around him questions. That's how I found my mother. He gets a hold of his biological grandparents on his mother's side, the claspers. I got their name, so as he tells it, about a year after Jonathan finds his dad, now he's found his mom.
He doesn't call her, he wants to meet her in person first, he decides to pick literally the most dramatic way possible to do it, ended up going to Syracuse, New York, literally on Christmas Eve with the fucking Ozzie Osborne song Mama, I'm coming home playing on a fucking Amtrak.
OK, Mama, I'm coming home. He shows up at Christmas. His mom answers the door, so I knock on the door. Christmas Eve.
Hi, my name's Jonathan. I'm your biological child. Drops or shit goes running upstairs to the attic yelling bullshit the whole fucking way.
No, I mean, literally just the word bullshit over and over and over again. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, over and over again.
But running up to her fucking attic comes tearing down the fucking steps and shows me my death certificate.
That was his Christmas present, his own death certificate. So does she say anything with your hands, you the death certificate, or is she still screaming bullshit, not just screaming bullshit? I mean, just. Again, you have to be able to look at the world through other people's eyes. She just handed her dead son. Is destiny. Suddenly, things start to make more sense. That's why. That's why they didn't fight, they didn't know they had all thought I was dead.
Jonathan realizes that his mom's side didn't abandon him. They had a death certificate from the Pima County Health Department in Arizona. Every part of Jonathan's story is so unreal that there are moments when I don't know what to say to him.
Who would want to fake his death? How is it even possible? Jonathan has a theory. So what what do you suggest? I was adopted at the age of nine or 10, gets kind of vague at that point, but after everything was said and done, he ended up starting three businesses in L.A..
I'm not suggesting shit.
I'm telling you point blank, he was paid money to sign the adoption papers. And I am not faulting the Bradys in any way, shape or form. Jonathan thinks this family, the Bradys, paid Father Ryan one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for him. Jonathan's basis for that number is that Ryan suddenly had money to open new businesses in California. He also said someone told him they witnessed the transaction, Jonathan admits it's circumstantial evidence, but it's what he believes even if there's no definitive trail.
It's also possible the adoptive family thought Ryan was unfit to be a dad and this was the best way to keep him away from his son before Father Ryan left for California. Jonathan believes Father Ryan faked a death certificate from the Pima County Health Department and mailed it to his biological mom. Now, you might ask, as I did, why would you want to pretend your son died? Well, Father Ryan thought he couldn't have an illegitimate child and become an ordained priest or as Jonathan put it on the phone.
The simple fact that I exist nullifies any claims to priesthood in any way, shape or form according to the things the Catholic Church itself.
So Father Ryan killed off his son to chase his dream if you wanted to go along with this theory. Father Ryan could have faked a certificate. Jonathan's adopted grandfather was a high level administrator for the Pima County Health Department, but he retired to high praise and doesn't sound like the kind of person who do that beyond that connection. There's no other evidence. In some of his writings, a former follower sent me, Father Ryan tells a totally different story to explain the existence of Jonathan Ryan, claims the Catholic Church directed him to marry Jonathan's mom because she'd gotten pregnant out of wedlock.
This would prevent an abortion and allow Jonathan to be adopted instead. There's no evidence any of this ever happened. Untangling Father Ryan's background is tough. He crisscrosses the country using multiple names, Randall Dean stocks, Ryan s.A.
And Scott Ryan, Scott Golinger and the 21 other name variations are all him based on so-called legal records.
He does a good job of hiding the truth when he wants to. But what Father Ryan can't hide is his resemblance to Jonathan.
They look so alike to me.
There's no doubt they're related. You can see it in their eyes, the way their forehead wrinkles and their bright gray hair. Even in their personality. They're both smart, charming. Jonathan knows how similar they are, which for him is a problem.
I have fought tooth and nail to find what I was what I came to. What I found was fucking ugly.
He does what he can to avoid being anything like his dad, something twisted in me, the opposite direction of him. There's a fundamental difference between him and me. So by 18, Jonathan, whose parents are divorced, his dad got custody, neglected him, and then he suspects sold him to another family and his mom got a fake death certificate with his name on it. So she never came looking for him. His dad wasn't Father Ryan yet, but he was already used to playing with people's lives.
The Winnebago tribe got screwed over to us, Winnebago, Indian tribe. What happened with Ryan Scott? After everything said and done, there was several million dollars missing. And their financial department, the office building that it was located at, was burnt to the motherfucking ground. I did ask the tribe, I asked if he worked for them, if money was missing and if the financial building really did burn down, their response came from a generic public relations e-mail quote.
That was some time ago. We have no comment at this time. Father Ryan was never charged with any crime. Do you want to talk about white fuckin privilege? Jonathan can't believe his dad just walked away. That's why when he heard where he went next, he wanted to warn people.
After the Winnebago's came, Edgerton father Ryan managed to get himself hired as the finance director for a small town in Wisconsin called Edgerton.
Ryan doesn't last too long in this job. Jonathan called the mayor and told him he better look into Ryan's credentials because I tracked him. Something was off.
He didn't tell me the truth. Jonathan's warning paid off. Father Ryan gets convicted of adding an extra zero to a thirty dollar check to himself from the city in 1993. He ends up getting three years probation, but around this time, Jonathan taps out. He spent. He can't keep trying to nail his dad. He's got to live his own life.
I stopped because I was trying to get away from it.
After Edgerton, Jonathan loses track of his dad, so he has no idea that Ryan would resurface in Wisconsin.
It's one thing to put on a green visor and pretend to be an accountant. It's another to wear a white collar and mess with people's spirituality, their souls.
Did the fact he was now using people's spirituality for his kohn's changed the way Jonathan felt about his dad before he answered, he got up off his couch and walked to his kitchen area. He grabbed an oversized can of Red Bull and set it on the coffee table. Jonathan slid over the Red Bull and a bottle of Aristocrat Vodka.
If we're going to go this direction, we are going to take a shot. Father Ryan was just getting started. Batsuit Casares was Honduras's most prominent environmental activist. She was murdered in her home in 2016. The story of her death is full of lies, deception and violence. On the new podcast Blood River, we explore who in the end is really responsible for the murder. And what does justice actually look like in a place where killers almost always walk away untouched?
Blood River is out now. Subscribe today. It's 1996, three years since Jonathan stopped keeping tabs on his dad. It's also the year Father Ryan starts his first church. He's still on parole after getting convicted of stealing money from Edgerton's city government for the site of his first church. He picks Verruca Wisconsin, a town of a little less than 4500. Father Ryan almost always seemed to pick small towns.
These were places with small police forces, less aggressive, if any, media outlets and places where people are just friendlier, more trusting, too, and a bit slower to change. All of those things, whether intentional or not, meant there would be fewer people to call them out. These towns can be welcoming places, especially to someone everyone assumes is a priest. A person they were taught to revere see is almost godlike since they were born. But the hierarchy in the local diocese was much more skeptical of this new father.
Ryan, you know, when did you first learn about Ryan Scott? Well, that would be in 1996, Monsignor Michael Gorman was the chancellor at the diocese of La Crosse in Wisconsin. He has a tongue in cheek way of talking about Father Ryan, Lacross is a beautiful town right along the Mississippi River. It's the largest community in that area with more than 50000 people. The La Crosse Diocese oversees all the Catholic churches in the part of Wisconsin where Father Ryan opened his first abbey.
At that time, he's going by Father Ryan St. Dan Scott or Ryan Scott for short.
The problem then, of course, is that Ryan Scott was presenting himself as a priest. He was offering mass things and without any translation or knowledge of the bishop of the diocese across this next part is amazing to me and raises so many questions after he opens the first Holy Rosary Abbey.
Father Ryan reaches out to the local diocese to see if they'd support him. That's like pretending to be a doctor and opening a clinic, then going to the nearest hospital to ask for referrals. The bishop and Monsignor Gorman agree to meet with Ryan. They end up meeting with him several times. Can you talk about those at all what they were like? Well, Ryan's Scott was trying to convince us that he had been ordained a Catholic priest by Archbishop James Joseph Bernard, who was the retired archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa.
He said the meetings always stayed cordial, at one point, Ryan gave them a piece of paper with this archbishop's signature on it. Remember, Ryan was convicted in 1993 and opened this abbey only three years later. Seminary takes at least four years and it often takes eight. There's no way he could have finished seminary in that time.
Bishop Burke and I. Never from the very beginning recognize any of his claims to any kind of legitimacy, least of all the so-called ordination by Archbishop Byrne into Puch, who, as he described it, simply put his hand on his head. He said when they called down to check into Father Ryan's claim, Gorman spoke to the priest in charge of Archbishop Bern's affairs. It turns out that priest had gotten worried Ryan was taking advantage of the archbishop and he stopped Ryan from visiting the nursing home again.
Whether he got any money from him or not, I don't know. But as far as the archbishop's ability to retain him, Bishop Burke and I both knew that that could not have happened.
How desperate do you have to be to find an aging archbishop in a nursing home, gain their trust and then have them fake ordain you? Ryan told the bishop in Monsignore he had actually been ordained another time, too, yes, really? Ryan claimed a group in California called the American Catholic Church had ordained him, they're part of that subculture of traditional Catholics who want the church to be what it was before all the reforms.
They reached out to Monsignor Gorman, apparently hearing that he was in the diocese of across this so-called archbishop. Archbishop Erwitt Close wrote us a letter telling us that Ryan Scott had no connection with them, that he had been excommunicated by them.
Even traditional Catholics, the group he claimed to serve, wanted to distance themselves from him.
If he had been part of that American Catholic Church, would that have made a difference? Is does the does the Vatican recognize that traditional movement?
But with that, Monsignor Gorman was unmoved. He and the bishop eventually decided meeting with Ryan was going nowhere.
We didn't want to be antagonistic because we were hoping to to bring this to some peaceful resolution. The ultimate resolution would have been for him to finally accept the fact that he was not a priest. And if he were to be reconciled with the Catholic Church to be to be seen as a leader in the Ryan didn't want to be a layman.
He didn't want to be in the pews. He wanted to be at the altar. So the dioceses in the Cross published a warning in multiple newspapers and called the sheriff's office. They even got the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to send out a letter to every bishop in the country warning them about Ryan. What's incredible is that that wasn't enough to stop Father Ryan in his tracks right there at the first Holy Rosary Abbey. Strangely enough, stopping a fake priest is harder than you'd think, and Father Ryan is an especially difficult case because even if you throw a fact at him, he fires back with his own.
That's exactly what he did when the actual Catholic Church put out all those warnings. He wasn't real.
He threatened a lawsuit against against me and against the disease.
At first he filed a lawsuit saying they were lying. Gorman said the attorney for the diocese actually wanted Ryan to follow through with the lawsuit.
I welcome this because in the discovery portion, he would have to divulge the whole lot of things about his background, which we knew he wasn't about to do in court under oath. And so it never went anywhere. Yeah, but you were you kind of look forward to the idea to finally actually get him to answer that stuff under oath? Absolutely. Because that would have exposed the whole fraud.
But the La Crosse Diocese would never get that chance. As Father Ryan felt the pressure on him growing. He realized he needed to do something different. Here's Veda.
It became contentious to the point where Ryan spent 23 days in jail on a probation violation.
This was the probation he was still finishing for stealing money from Edgerton's government.
And that's when Father Ryan hears about a guy who's operating religious refuges for traditional Catholics all over the country, filled with adoring devoted followers. And he thinks, here is someone I can learn from. Jonathan knows a lot about this part of the story, the bad part is it's not just Kim. He learned from somebody that somebody, unlike Father Ryan, had been able to stay completely under the radar for years, he'd been successfully selling people on the idea he was a prophet who'd received a message from God.
Maybe Father Ryan thought he saw his future, his way to success if he could just learn from this man. To this day, despite investigations by the FBI and a local sheriff, this alleged prophet is barely known to the public.
Next time on smoke screen, fake priest, we go to a refuge in the Arizona desert, you wouldn't know you were on it when you got there if you didn't know exactly what you were looking for.
Father Ryan joins up with a group of other convicted criminals. I mean, he clearly was a con man. And what he learns there, he'll use down the line.
And you've barely scratched the fucking surface.
Next time on Fake Priest, he's got old time religion. There is his cash in a coffee can and he makes his decisions down on his knees.
He's a full grown man and he increased its production of Neon How Media. It is reported and hosted by me allocution. The executive producer is Jonathan Hirsch. Producers are Natalie Ran and Hannah Robbins. Catherine St. Louis is our editor, fact checking by Laura Buller's. Thanks to Matt McGinley for our theme music. And a Blue Dot sessions four tracks you hear on this episode, Sound Design and additional composition by Jesse Bernstein. And the song you hear now is Old Time Religion by Parker Milsap, our engineer Scott Somerville, special thanks to Peter Manseau, Odelia Reuben, Haley, Fagre Share Morris and Vikram Patel.