Belleville Diocese Removes Third Priest Facing Inquiry

By Robert Kelly
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 20, 1993

The third priest in the Belleville Diocese to be accused of sexual misconduct within the last two weeks has been removed as pastor of a Roman Catholic church.

The Rev. Robert Vonnahmen, who had been pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Elizabethtown, Ill., agreed to leave the parish while an allegation against him is investigated by church officials.

Vonnahmen is accused of an incident of sexual misconduct with a minor that occurred more than 25 years ago, diocesan officials said in a news release.

More specific information was not made public.

Parishioners at St. Joseph's were told of Vonnahmen's departure on Thursday in a meeting at the church in Elizabethtown, a town of 430 people on the Ohio River, about 140 miles southeast of St. Louis.

That same night, parishioners at St. Boniface Church at Germantown in Clinton County were told that their pastor, the Rev. James Calhoun, was being removed because of a separate allegation of sexual misconduct. That act was alleged to have occurred more than 10 years ago and to have involved a young adult.

On March 6, the Rev. Jerome Ratermann submitted his resignation as pastor of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Belleville because of allegations of sexual misconduct while he was principal at Mater Dei Catholic High School from 1964-69.

Church officials did not explain why action was being taken now on allegations that date back several years.

As in the other two cases, diocesan officials said Vonnahmen was "willingly cooperating" with the decision to remove him from his parish. Vonnahmen was unavailable for comment.

Vonnahmen "needs time to deal with the allegation, and he could not do this and continue as your pastor at the same time," parishioners in Elizabethtown were told in a statement by diocesan officials.

"Please remember both the person bringing the allegation and Father (Vonnahmen) in your prayers, that all may find peace and healing in their lives," the statement says.

The Rev. Henry Engelhart, pastor of St. Mary's Church in Shawneetown, Ill., was appointed administrator of the parish at Elizabethtown in the absence of Vonnahmen.

Engelhart said he would continue to celebrate Mass both in Shawneetown and in Elizabethtown until the investigation of Vonnahmen is completed. He said he knew nothing about the specific allegation against Vonnahmen.

Vonnahmen had served as director of Camp Ondessonk, a Catholic youth camp in Southern Illinois, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Engelhart did not know how long Vonnahmen had been pastor at St. Joseph's.


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