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  Downstate Bishop Warns 3 Priests

Associated Press, carried in Chicago Tribune
May 20, 1994

Three Roman Catholic priests accused of sexual misconduct may be resisting orders to stop publicly performing religious duties, Bishop Wilton Gregory of the Belleville Diocese said Thursday.

One of the priests, Rev. James Calhoun, recently was photographed offering mass. Calhoun, who was ordered permanently removed from his Germantown parish last July, is among nine priests accused of sexual misconduct who cannot offer mass in public or wear clerical collars.

Gregory would not identify the other two priests he is worried about. But Gregory said he also planned to talk with Rev. Robert Vonnahmen about his activities.

Vonnahmen, who also was ordered permanently removed from his Elizabethtown parish, heads the San Damiano retreat center near Rosiclare where Calhoun said mass Sunday.

"Most of the priests that are on administrative leave are following the restrictions dutifully," Gregory said. "I have only a few who have given me reason to question their acceptance of the sanctions."

The nine priests-all from separate parishes-are accused of sexual misconduct involving either minors or young adults.

A diocesan review board has recommended that four not be returned to their parishes. "I have to find places for them to reside where they can be properly monitored, and get whatever assistance they need," Gregory said.

The cases of the other five priests are pending, and no deadline has been set.

Gregory said he was unaware Calhoun was saying Mass until he saw the photographs, which were given to the Belleville News-Democrat. He said he expects to meet with Calhoun within two weeks.

Calhoun, a retired priest in residence at San Damiano, is permitted to say a private Mass with some staff. But Gregory said the mass in the photographs "appears to be a larger group of people."

Gregory said he had a recent conversation with Calhoun: "He gave me an indication he would follow these restrictions in a more exacting manner. He was not defiant."

A meeting with Vonnahmen was not yet scheduled Thursday.

If a priest continues to disobey sanctions, Gregory can prohibit him from even saying private mass.

Telephone messages left for Calhoun and Vonnahmen at San Damiano were not returned Thursday.

Rev. Clyde Grogan, chairman of the Southern Illinois Association of Priests, said he could understand how some priests would find it hard to stop performing their duties. But they also are sworn to obedience.

"I would think there has to be an awesome amount of shock for the priests who are accused," he said.

 
 

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