`It's Been Difficult; Pray for Us'

Article excerpt

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. …