St. Louis victims’ group says Illinois priest abuse report falls short

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

May 23, 2023

By Jesse Bogan

BELLEVILLE — A bombshell 696-page report on sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, released Tuesday by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, said archbishops and bishops throughout Illinois “accepted the transfer of known abusers from other dioceses” and that the information “was kept from the Catholic community and the public.”

In the Diocese of Belleville, which covers southern Illinois counties, bishops “turned their backs on children” to protect priests, the report says. Forty-three Catholic clerics and religious brothers who sexually abused children while ministering there are named.

Raymond Kownacki was high on the list. According to the report, Kownacki was ordained in 1960 and served in 12 churches (not including a five-year stint in Guatemala) before he was removed from ministry in 1995. The report notes that nine people reported being abused by him and that the diocese claimed the first complaint was made in 1972. The report said “diocese leadership, including multiple bishops, knew of, and participated in, the transfer” of Kownacki “from parish to parish, over a course of decades.”

Kownacki, the subject of prior litigation, was defrocked in 2013 and died in 2022.

At a press conference outside the Belleville Diocese administrative offices on Tuesday, David Clohessy, an organizer with a victims’ advocacy group, said the new report fell short because it didn’t result in criminal charges against church leaders.

“It’s not necessarily a surprise, but it’s terribly disappointing, too,” Clohessy said. “That’s what we believe will make the difference.”

Clohessy is the former national director of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Belleville Bishop Michael McGovern wasn’t at his office Tuesday to comment. An assistant referred questions to Monsignor John Myler, a spokesman for the diocese.

Asked about the Kownacki case, he said by email that the “Diocese acknowledges that — several decades ago — certain of its priests engaged in inexcusable sexual misconduct which caused serious harm to children. And the diocese apologizes for any inadequate response it may have made then.”

Myler pointed out part of the report in which the attorney general mentioned that the Diocese of Belleville “has made strides forward in child protection procedures, investigating child sex abuse allegations, and publicly disclosing clerics who ministered within the diocese and are substantiated child sex abusers.”

Statewide, the attorney general noted in the report that there are still 160 substantiated Illinois Catholic clerics and religious brother child sex abusers still not disclosed on diocesan websites in Illinois. But the attorney general said in the report that the four-year investigation resulted in more transparency.

At the start of the investigation, the report said 103 substantiated Catholic cleric child sex abusers were disclosed by Illinois dioceses. Over the course of the investigation, dioceses published an additional 231 names “as a result,” the attorney general said, of the investigation.

At the Belleville news conference, Lena Woltering, 75, said SNAP has been trying to bring attention to problem clergy for years.

“Maybe the attorney general will have more sway,” she said.

To download the entire report, go to