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  Four Suspended Priests Will Remain on Leave

By Robert Kelly
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
July 24, 1993

Four of six priests removed from churches in the Belleville Diocese amid allegations of sexual misconduct will not return to active ministries, Bishop James P. Keleher announced Friday. Keleher said he had accepted the recommendations of a diocesan Review Board that the four priests should remain on leave indefinitely as active priests. The four are the Revs. Jerome Ratermann of Belleville, James Calhoun of Germantown, Robert Vonnahmen of Elizabethtown and Robert Chlopecki of Nashville. In addition, Keleher announced in a news release, the other two priests being investigated by the Review Board - the Rev. David Crook of New Baden and the Rev. Eugene Linnemann of Ruma - will stay on leave from their parishes pending completion of the investigation. The board also is studying sexual misconduct allegations against Deacon Francis Theis, who is on leave from the gift shop he helped run at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows at Belleville, Keleher announced. Keleher was unavailable for an interview, but Sister Michelle Emmerich, a diocesan spokeswoman, said Crook and Linnemann were getting counseling and therapy at an unspecified place.

Emmerich said Ratermann, Calhoun, Vonnahmen and Chlopecki had completed some counseling and had been urged to continue in counseling. They might be eligible to apply for reinstatement as active priests sometime in the future, she said.

"At this point, however, they are not going to be returned to the ministry," Emmerich said. Administrators who are priests have been appointed to serve the parishes of the removed priests. Emmerich said she did not know when new pastors would be appointed in the four parishes where that position is now considered vacant. Specifics about the allegations against the priests and the deacon have not been made public. But all of the incidents alleged were said to have involved minors and to have occurred eight or more years ago. Emmerich declined to say where the six removed priests and the deacon are staying or where they have been getting therapy. Keleher said in the news release that "other allegations of inappropriate sexual activity on the part of clergy have also surfaced" during the Review Board's investigation. The investigation began shortly after the first priest was removed early in March. Emmerich said the new allegations under investigation involved priests and "persons other than minors." She confirmed that one of those incidents involved a meeting between a priest and a male prostitute that was arranged by KMOV (Channel 4). The station never broadcast a report on the incident, but its journalistic ethics in arranging the meeting came under criticism by church officials. Station officials later apologized. Keleher thanked the seven-member Review Board for its work. "I have accepted all of these (board) recommendations and informed the priests and deacon of this decision and urged them to seek professional help and spiritual guidance so that they may bring peace and healing to their lives," he said in the news release. The Rev. Ralph Haas, a priest in Hecker and member of the diocese's Priest Personnel Board, said Friday that Keleher's actions were "more or less what we had expected." The Personnel Board helps the bishop assign priests to various parishes. "We're not a disciplinary group," Haas said. He noted that any priests who believe they have been removed unfairly by the bishop from parish churches "can always appeal it to Rome," where the highest church officials meet at the Vatican. Haas said he was unsure if any of the priests who were removed planned such an appeal. Monica Hatch of Belleville, a lay person who is on the diocesan Review Board, said she believed the board had done its work well in considering the allegations. "We have worked very hard to try to see every aspect of each situation," she said. David Clohessy of St. Louis is active in a group called Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. He has been critical of how the Catholic Church often has handled allegations of sexual misconduct by priests. Even so, Clohessy said Friday he was encouraged that the Belleville Diocese seemed to be doing something about clergy abuse. "I would have to say grudgingly and half-heartedly that this is progress," he said.

He insisted that more priests ought to be disciplined for sexual misconduct in the Belleville Diocese, as well as in the St. Louis Archdiocese and other nearby dioceses. He urged anyone abused by priests to go first to civil authorities and not to expect the church alone to resolve those problems.

 
 

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