|Sex Abuse Lawsuit against Belleville Diocese Moves Ahead; Jury Selection Underway
By George Pawlaczyk
August 18, 2008
BELLEVILLE — Former Bishop Wilton Gregory is on the defense list of potential witnesses in the a civil trial involving a Belleville Diocese priest accused of sexually molesting an altar boy, prospective jurors were told Monday.
The trial involves a lawsuit brought in 2002 by James Wisniewski of Champaign, who alleges that when he was a 13-year-old altar boy at St. Theresa's Parish in Salem in the early 1970s, he was sexually assaulted by the Rev. Raymond Kownacki. Named as defendants are Kownacki and the Diocese. Kownacki has stated he will not comment.
Belleville attorney Mike Weilmuenster, who represents Wisniewski, asked potential jurors Monday whether they would give added weight to the testimony of witnesses who are or were officials of the Diocese. He mentioned four witnesses on the defense list — Gregory, now archbishop of Atlanta, former vicar general Monsignor James Margason, current chancellor the Rev. Ken York and Monsignor Joseph Schwaegel, who was removed from active ministry in the mid 1990s for a sexual addiction not involving a minor.
No of the potential jurors said he or she would give more credence to a church or former church official.
It is common during both civil and criminal trials that not all listed witnesses are called. Telephone calls to Gregory's media relations office in Atlanta were not answered.
The civil trial got underway after the Illinois Supreme Court on Monday denied a request by the diocese to dismiss the lawsuit because of time-limitation concerns. The high court also denied a request to postpone the trial that began Monday morning with jury selection. The denials were issued without comment.
David Clohessy, director of the St. Louis-based support organization the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said: "Thank goodness the diocese's shameful 'Hail Mary' pass to the (Illinois) Supreme Court was rejected."
Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto has ruled that before the jury can begin deliberations on whether Kownacki is guilty of causing psychological damage to Wisniewski, it must first decide whether the diocese fraudulently concealed evidence of molestation. If the jury decides that "fraudulent concealment" occurred, it can go forward with deliberations.
Transcripts of earlier deposition testimony has shown that Margason, Gregory's representative to a citizens review board set up to investigate sex abuse allegations, withheld the names of victims from board members.
The transcripts also showed that Gregory did not turn over personnel files of many priests who were later removed from active ministry, and that the review board did not ask for the files.
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org and 239-2625.
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