Thomas Joseph Mohan
“They had a chance to make things right, but they did everything wrong.” That’s how Tom Emens, who asked that his real name be used, summarizes the Archdiocese of Chicago’s response to his allegations of child sex abuse against Monsignor Thomas Mohan.
Mohan spent most of his time as a priest in Chicago. In 1973, he retired and relocated to California, where he assisted as a priest at Saint Anthony Claret in Anaheim. Mohan lived with his sister in a house two blocks from Tom’s. It was not unusual to see him walking through the neighborhood while wearing his garb.
It was a big deal when Mohan “dropped into our lives” when Tom was 8 or 9 years old. His father remembers the moment vividly: “He showed up unannounced one day while out on a walk in the neighborhood. It was an honor to have a member of the clergy take interest in the family, and a monsignor at that. There was a little buzz at Saint Anthony’s about how we were so favored.”
Tom immediately noticed the priest’s charm. “Mohan inserted himself into our family, like an uncle,” Tom recalls. “It was comfortable; he was a good family friend.” Mohan’s charisma and standing within the church convinced Tom’s parents it was safe for their son to visit the priest on his own. “My parents took me to his residence the first time for religious study,” Tom explains. “My mother had often expressed her desire to have one of her children in the priesthood, and Mohan seemingly took me under his wing.” Tom felt favored by Mohan, and this had a profound effect on him.
Tom got his first bike when he turned 10. He was excited because it meant more freedom. He frequently rode his bike to Mohan’s house. That’s when Mohan’s grooming of Tom began to intensify. “I was the golden boy,” Tom recalls. “Mohan gave me his undivided attention, and he was very well read and truly showed a genuine interest in me. I was completely flattered and excited to be held in such high regard by him.” During this time, Mohan discussed all kinds of interesting topics with Tom—like religion, music, and their shared passion for western novels. “Mohan had an entire bookshelf filled with Louis L’Amour paperbacks that he frequently loaned me,” Tom remembers. “Mohan always made sure I had a new book to take home and read—with the promise to take home another upon a return visit to him.”
During that summer, Mohan invited Tom over for a swim. A family across the street from Mohan allowed him to use their pool when they were away on vacation. That’s where the abuse began. It started with touching and groping—and progressed to fondling under Tom’s bathing suit. “As a 10 year old boy, with absolutely no control over my own sexual response, I was shocked into submission,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what was happening or why, but Mohan convinced me somehow that it was perfectly acceptable.” Tom adds: “To this day, I struggle with the guilt and shame of what he did to me—even though I know that he had complete control over me after grooming me for so long.”
After several more incidents of sexual assault in the pool, Mohan introduced Tom to oral sex. “I recall changing out of my swimsuit,” Tom remembers. “Mohan undressed with me in his room, and this is the first time he touched me while completely naked.” Mohan moved him to the edge of the bed and asked him first to sit and then eventually to lay down—legs spread and hanging over the edge of the bed. “Mohan would always perform oral sex on me first and made certain that I always satisfied his needs in return,” Tom explains. It went on for the next 18 months. “It was up to him when it would happen,” Tom says.
Eventually, Mohan wanted anal sex. He began by digitally penetrating Tom. “He was definitely preparing me for it, and I didn’t like it at all,” Tom remembers. During his final visit to Mohan’s house, Tom experienced the most painful encounter. After performing oral sex on him, Mohan tried several times to penetrate him anally—against Tom’s objection. “This was the first time I showed any signs of defiance,” he says. “Mohan was extremely angry with me and acted as if I did something horribly wrong.” The incident escalated to the point where Tom feared for his safety. He bolted out of Mohan’s house for what would be the last time.
Tom would still see Mohan every few weeks at church and on his walks around the neighborhood. But Mohan no longer dropped by Tom’s house for long visits. Tom’s father recalls: “Your mother began to complain to me that she felt she had to stop whatever she was doing and entertain Mohan, something she didn’t have time to do. He just hung around. Then, he stopped visiting altogether. I asked mother if she had said something to make him feel unwelcome, and she said no.” To Tom, though, it was clear why Mohan stopped visiting: he no longer had Tom under his control.
After the abuse, Tom became a rebellious kid. He got into trouble at school and acted out. “I had a clear disdain for authority afterwards—particularly towards priests and nuns,” Tom explains. “To this day, I cannot stand to be around a church, much less any priest or nun.” Although his brothers were altar servers, Tom wanted nothing to do with it. He refused to go to church once he turned 18. To this day, he has never returned. This caused a tremendous amount of tension and animosity with his parents.
Now Tom realizes all he lost because of Mohan’s abuse. He told his family and decided to report it to the church. His sister was particularly supportive and helped him throughout this process.
“To this day, I struggle with the guilt and shame of what he did to me—even though I know that he had complete control over me after grooming me for so long.”
It was unclear who in the church was responsible for Mohan. He had been a priest of the Chicago archdiocese but had retired to California, where the abuse occurred. And during his time in California, his parish had been transferred from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to the newly created Diocese of Orange. Ultimately, Tom was put in touch with representatives from the Chicago archdiocese, who arranged to fly to California to meet with him and his sister about Mohan’s abuse.
Tom was greatly disappointed by the experience. The archdiocese sent him a transcript of the discussion, which had been recorded with Tom’s permission. But portions were missing. Key words like “abuse” and “kiss” and “Mohan” had been omitted from the transcript—as had a two-minute section during which archdiocesan officials offered their own views “as to why there are so many pedophile priests.” Tom believes the archdiocese “took out what they said because it was very revealing.” He asked the archdiocese what happened to the missing text and was told it was caused by a vendor error; when he reached out to the vendor, however, the archdiocese became angry and changed its tone. “Finally, after months of frustrating interactions, I received a letter from legal counsel for the Archdiocese of Chicago telling me to back off,” Tom recalls. “I hit a wall, and I felt completely alone.”
“I felt cheated,” Tom says. He has no confidence in the church. “They are doing more damage than good,” he says. “It’s an injustice to victims who tell their stories. The revictimization adds insult to injury.”