Belleville Diocese Settles 3 Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
By George Pawlaczyk
March 21, 2012
BELLEVILLE -- Three lawsuits settled on Tuesday in St. Clair County Court involving two priests of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville brings to at least five the number of victims of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest of the diocese that have resulted in monetary damages.
While the previous payouts total $7.5 million for two lawsuits -- $6.3 million paid to James Wisniewski last year and $1.2 million to a victim identified only as "John Doe" in 2009 -- the amount of damages in the newly announced agreements is confidential by agreement of the parties.
Belleville plaintiffs attorney Mike Weilmuenster said the agreement to settle the lawsuits contained a clause in each stating that the exact amount of damages cannot be disclosed. However, he said, "It is a substantial sum."
In two of the lawsuits, the plaintiffs are identified by initials. In the third, plaintiff, which involved the Rev. Raymond Kownacki as a defendant, the plaintiff is listed as Steve Kern, who lives in California and could not be reached for comment.
The Rev. John Myler, spokesman for the diocese, could not be reached for comment. Bishop Edward Braxton does not comment to local media.
Barbara Dorris, of St. Louis, the outreach director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, issued this statement concerning the settlements, "We're grateful for these brave men who have stepped forward, gotten some measure of justice, and reminded us all just how dangerous child molesting clerics are and how often their church supervisors enable these crimes."
Two of the lawsuits involved allegations against Kownacki, 75, a priest of the diocese who was removed from ministry more than 15 years ago after allegations of sexual abuse of boys at St. Theresa Parish in Salem were made against him and a diocesan review board recommended he should not be involved in ministry. Kownacki has repeatedly declined to comment and is in a nursing home in St. Louis County. The $7.5 million previously paid also involved sexual abuse by Kownacki determined by a jury or listed as part of an earlier agreement to pay damages.
The sexual misconduct in all these cases occurred more than 30 years ago.
One of the three lawsuits settled on Tuesday involves the Rev. Jerome Ratermann, 80, who was also removed from ministry because of allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. Ratermann could not be reached for comment. The lawsuit involving Ratermann alleges that while he was pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Waterloo in 1975 or 1976 he sexually abused a minor.
Weilmuenster said he was pleased that the diocese decided to settle the lawsuits rather than, "engage in another public trial," that would be difficult for the victims and traumatic for parishioners.
In the Wisniewski trial, a number of front page BND stories reported how several witnesses and documents presented to jurors showed that high ranking church officials engaged in a coverup and routinely transferred Kownacki to unsuspecting parishes where he engaged in abuse. Braxton was not the bishop in Belleville during this time.