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Survivor Narratives

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.”

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Terms are defined as provided in the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Glossary of Catholic Terms, unless denoted with *.

Altar server
Individuals, usually children, who assist clerics during liturgical functions such as mass. Prior to 1994, only men and boys were permitted to be altar servers.*
The title given automatically to bishops who govern archdioceses. It is also given to certain other high-ranking church officials.
The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province. It is governed by an archbishop.
Auxiliary Bishop
A bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist its residential bishop.
The highest order of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church. The chief priests in their respective dioceses. Bishops are responsible for the pastoral care of their dioceses. All bishops have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the church.
A man who has taken vows in a religious order but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood. Sometimes he is called a lay brother to distinguish him from ordained members of religious orders.
Canon Law

A code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church.

Highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the pope. Cardinals are regarded as the pope's closest advisors. Most cardinals are archbishops.
The chief archivist of a diocese's official records. Also a notary and secretary of the diocese’s central administration.
Clergy is a collective term referring to all those ordained—bishops, priests, and deacons—who administer the rites of the church. A cleric is an individual member of the clergy. Only men are permitted to join the clergy.
Confession or Reconciliation
The Catholic sacrament in which one makes a voluntary self-accusation of sins to a qualified priest in private in order to obtain absolution. The priest provides the confessor, also known as the penitent, with a penance to atone for sins committed. A priest who hears confession is forbidden from disclosing the contents of a confession to others under what is called the seal of confession.*
The personnel and offices through which (1) the pope administers the affairs of the universal church (the Roman Curia), or (2) a bishop administers the affairs of a diocese (the diocesan curia). The principal officials of a diocesan curia are the vicar general, the chancellor, officials of the diocesan tribunal or court, examiners, consultors, auditors, and notaries.
Dallas Charter
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People sets forth policies for each United States archdiocese and diocese to adopt as part of an effort to address allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. The Charter was formulated at the 2002 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas. The Charter was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
One of three groups that comprise the clergy, meaning those ordained for ministry. Only men are permitted to become deacons. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, but only unmarried men committed to lifelong celibacy can be ordained deacons if they are planning to become priests.
Diocesan Priest
Priests under the direction of their local bishop. Most serve in the parishes of the diocese, but they may also be assigned to other diocesan ministries or released for service outside the diocese.
A territorial division of the Church headed by a bishop.
Extern Priest
A priest with faculties to minister in a diocese or archdiocese who was not ordained in that diocese or archdiocese. For example, a diocesan priest from the Diocese of Springfield who has been granted faculties to minister by the Archdiocese of Chicago is an extern priest.*
Church authorization, given by the law itself or by a Church superior, to perform certain official acts.
Members of the Catholic Church. Derived from Catholic teachings that clergy are like shepherds guiding a flock.*
Laicize or Defrock
The process by which a priest is returned to the lay state. It is sometimes used as a penalty for a serious crime, but also can come at the request of the priest. A laicized priest is barred from all priestly ministry with one exception: He may give absolution to someone in immediate danger of death. The pope must approve all requests for laicization. When a priest is laicized without his consent for a crime, such as committing child sexual abuse, it is sometimes called defrocking.
Any activity conducive to the salvation of souls. It can include ordained ministry such as liturgical leadership and administration of the sacraments, or lay ministry such as instructing children in the faith, serving the poor, visiting the sick, or being an altar server, reader, or music leader at mass.
An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the pope to some diocesan priests.
A member of a religious order of women who has taken solemn or simple vows.
Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop. A cleric who has undergone ordination is known as ordained.*
A specific community within a diocese with its own church building and under the authority of a pastor who is responsible for providing ministerial service. Most parishes are formed on a geographic basis, but they may be formed along national or ethnic lines.
A priest in charge of a Catholic parish or congregation.
Acts performed to atone for committed sins, as directed by a priest in the Catholic sacrament of reconcilliation.*
Residential housing for clergy provided by the Church. A rectory can also contain administrative offices for a parish.*
Religious Cleric
Professed member of a religious order or institute. Religious clergy live according to the rule of their respective orders.
Religious Order or Order
An institution of men or women, at least some of whose members take solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and whose male members are sometimes ordained.*
An educational institution for men preparing for the priesthood.
A cleric who acts in the name of another cleric.*
Vicar general
A priest, auxiliary bishop, or coadjutor bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the diocese.
Victims Assistance Coordinator

A diocesan employee who has been designated to coordinate assistance to survivors of sex abuse by clerics.*