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SAN DIEGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - Church Militant got in touch this week with Billy Eatmon, the man who spoke out at the start of one of Bp. Robert McElroy's "listening sessions" last week.
In his speech, he slammed the bishop's handling of the priest sex abuse scandal, talking about his own brief encounter as a child with a pedophile ring at a Catholic summer camp. He said at one point to Bp. McElroy, "I have no faith in your will or character."
Eatmon told Church Militant in a phone interview on Wednesday, "I don't consider myself a victim," adding, "Compared to what others have endured and have had to live with, I've got it good."
When he spoke up at Bp. McElroy's listening session, Eatmon had to dodge security. He walked back and forth quickly, shouting his speech over them. A group of people started singing a hymn to drown him out. His daughter tried to help him from the back of the room. She explained to Church Militant, "I stood up on the chair and I told everyone to be quiet."
She clarified that security pounced on her for standing on her chair and yelling at everyone to be quiet. She only started recording video on her phone after they tried to remove her, so she could get it on video. Church Militant received a copy of the video.
Eatmon said, "I thought it would be the least disruptive if I spoke up and gave my story beforehand."
He had tried to bring it up with the moderators for the event, "But they were having none of it."
Eatmon did not know that security was forcing his daughter to leave. He says he likely would have lost his temper if he had turned around at the wrong moment and seen her getting removed. Apparently, security brought her back in later.
Although security allowed him to stay for the town hall event after giving his testimony, he left after Bp. McElroy answered only two or three questions. He says the whole thing felt like a "sham."
Eatmon feels that his ability to give his speech and dodge security without losing his cool seemed like something miraculous.
He said of the tense scenario involving himself, his daughter, the security guards and Bp. McElroy, "I really feel like that was a battle of good and evil, and that we were being used by the Holy Spirit."
In his testimony, and again in the conversation with Church Militant, he noted how the parish hall where the listening session took place used to be named after a priest who was credibly accused of sex abuse.
Our Lady of Grace parish in El Cajon hosted the Oct. 4 listening session. Monsignor Thomas Moloney, now deceased, was pastor there for 20 years. In 2003, it was reported that a man came forward with a lawsuit alleging that Msgr. Moloney had molested him at a different parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Riverside.
The parish hall was named the Moloney Center until just recently. Eatmon says he and his daughter found out about the allegations against Moloney, and his daughter brought it up with youth group leaders at the parish. Later, they learned the monsignor's name had been removed from the building — the very space where Bp. McElroy's listening session on the sex abuse scandal took place.
As a boy, Eatmon attended Camp Ondessonk in southern Illinois. The camp was founded by Fr. Robert J. Vonnahmen, who was removed from ministry by the diocese of Belleville after being accused of sexually abusing minors at the camp.
Eatmon recalled an incident where the camp counselors took a group of kids out for a hike and had them all strip naked and ride a water slide. He wonders whether other boys at the camp with him would later get sexually abused by Fr. Vonnahmen or others.
As a boy, Eatmon was an altar server. For a while, he served with a priest who would later be accused of sexually abusing boys.
"Father Bob never touched me inappropriately, or anything like that," Eatmon said. But he was disappointed that, when the Church investigated the priest, they never contacted him to see what he might have noticed as an altar server.