3rd Sexual Abuse Suit Filed against Priest

By Robert Kelly
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
May 3, 1994

A lawsuit filed Monday accuses the Rev. Robert Vonnahmen of the Belleville Roman Catholic Diocese of sexually abusing a young man at a church camp in deep Southern Illinois several years ago.

Two similar suits were already pending against Vonnahmen, who was removed last year from parish work by diocesan officials. The latest suit, filed in St. Clair County Circuit Court at Belleville, charges that Vonnahmen abused William Perry Benton of Carbondale, Ill., on several occasions at Camp Ondessonk. The abuse began in 1976, when Benton was 14 years old, and continued for periods over the next six years, the suit says.

Vonnahmen was director of the Catholic youth camp during the period cited in the suit.

Vonnahmen was replaced as the director of Camp Ondessonk in 1985, and he was removed by diocesan officials from parish work last year after allegations of sexual abuse of minors surfaced against him.

Benton's suit seeks damages of $ 2 million each from Vonnahmen, the diocese and the camp. A hearing date wasn't set. Twice last year, Vonnahmen was named in suits accusing him of sexual misconduct. Frank Gundlach, an attorney for Vonnahmen, said he had yet to see the suit filed Monday. He declined to comment on it.

Bishop Wilton Gregory of the Belleville Diocese said he also had yet to see the suit. "I am sorry that this situation has gotten more complex," Gregory said. But he said the suit wouldn't deter him from trying to help victims of sexual abuse by clergy members throughout the diocese.

Since March 1993, nine priests in the Belleville Diocese have been accused of sexual abuse. Vonnahmen and seven of the others have been removed from parish work by diocesan officials. One removed himself amid the allegations.


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