It's Been Difficult; Pray for Us'

By Robert Kelly and Kathryn Rogers
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
May 22, 1994

ONE DAY EARLY this month, the Rev. James Calhoun answered the door of the priests' residence at the 3-year-old Spanish-style San Damiano Shrine near Golconda, Ill.

Calhoun, deposed pastor of St. Boniface Church in Germantown, in Clinton County, was casually dressed, with a gold crucifix hanging on a chain around his neck.

He called news reports of the allegation of sexual abuse by priests of the Belleville Diocese "sordid and one-sided" and said the case had hurt his brothers and sisters and had been hard on him. "I'm not dying, but it's been difficult," he said.

Calhoun said supportive mail from former parishioners has helped him cope.

He said the Rev. Robert Vonnahmen, removed from St. Joseph Church at Elizabethtown, Ill., in Hardin County, is also staying at the shrine.

He said Vonnahmen didn't want to talk and, much as he would like to, he himself couldn't talk more. "My hands are tied," he said, crossing his wrists symbolically.

"Pray for us," he said.

Along with seven other priests and a deacon from the Belleville diocese, all accused of abusing minors, Calhoun and Vonnahmen are living in church-imposed limbo.

"None of them are doing any kind of ministry," said the Rev. James Margason, vicar general of the diocese. "Basically, we are saying they are not to present themselves as priests or perform any kind of religious function in a public way."

Responding last week to reports that Calhoun and Vonnahmen have been saying Mass at the shrine, Belleville Bishop Wilton D. Gregory said he planned to meet with them to be sure they understand the restrictions. Calhoun, for his part, refused to say whether the reports were true.

Along with the Rev. Jerome Ratermann of Belleville and the Rev. Robert Chlopecki of Nashville, Calhoun and Vonnahmen have been permanently barred from the ministry by the diocese. In removing them, the diocese announced only that they had been found unfit. It gave no details of any findings against them.

The diocese has made no decisions in the cases of:

The Rev. Walter MacPherson of Washington Park.

The Rev. David Crook of New Baden.

The Rev. Eugene Linnemann of Ruma, in Randolph County.

The Rev. Edwin Kastner of St. Rose, in Clinton County.

The Rev. Louis Peterson of Belleville.

Deacon Francis Theis.

The diocese has never disclosed the whereabouts of any of the 10.

All are on leave - the priests from their parishes, Theis from his job as manager of the gift shop at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville.

Margason was unsure how long the men would need the counseling they are getting. "There is a tremendous amount of denial" by all involved in the allegations, he said. "That denial mechanism has to be broken through, and you don't do it easily or quickly."

State's Attorney Robert Haida of St. Clair County investigated Peterson, the only one to voluntarily absent himself, and declined to charge him.

Of the 10, only Vonnahmen has been sued - three times. Two suits accuse him of abusing boys at Camp Ondessonk, a Catholic youth camp in Southern Illinois, when he was the director there in the early 1980s.

He still heads a travel company and the agency that operates the San Damiano Shrine on the Ohio River about 150 miles southeast of St. Louis.


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