Illinois Priest Denies Abusing Boy

By Robert Kelly
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
November 2, 1993

A Roman Catholic priest denies an allegation in a lawsuit that he abused a boy at a church summer camp in Southern Illinois.

The priest, the Rev. Robert J. Vonnahmen, says in his response to the lawsuit that he did not abuse Stephen H. McCaffrey. Vonnahmen filed his response recently in U.S. District Court at Benton, Ill.

McCaffrey, now 25, contends in the suit, filed in August, that Vonnahmen had abused him when McCaffrey attended Camp Ondessonk in Johnson County, Ill., in 1981. Vonnahmen was the camp director at the time.

Even so, Vonnahmen said, he'd had no contact with McCaffrey and did not even know if McCaffrey had attended the camp.

Vonnahmen's response contends that the statute of limitations for filing the suit had expired. The response also raises constitutional objections to McCaffrey's claim for damages from an incident that happened so long ago.

In March, Vonnahmen was removed by the Catholic Diocese of Belleville as a parish priest in Elizabethtown, Ill., while the diocese investigated allegations of sexual abuse against him.

Diocesan officials later determined that Vonnahmen should not be returned to an active ministry, but details of the church investigation were not made public.

McCaffrey's suit seeks damages totaling $ 3.5 million from Vonnahmen and the diocese. The suit alleges that McCaffrey was abused twice in 1981, when he was a 13-year-old camper at Camp Ondessonk.

The suit says that on one occasion, Vonnahmen showed McCaffrey pornography and rubbed against him and that later that week, he sodomized the boy.

Vonnahmen threatened to kill McCaffrey's favorite horse and to start a fire, which he would blame on the boy, if McCaffrey told anyone about the encounters, the suit says. McCaffrey, now an insurance salesman in Albuquerque, N.M., said he had repressed memories of the alleged abuse until late last year.


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