Court: Diocese Must Release Medical Forms
Records Sought in Abuse Suit
By George Pawlaczyk
Belleville News-Democrat [Belleville IL]
July 2, 2005
BELLEVILLE - A state appeals court has ordered Belleville Diocese leaders to turn over medical records of a priest removed from ministry 10 years ago following allegations that he sexually abused a child.
In a 14-page decision made public Friday, a three-justice panel of the 5th District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon ordered the diocese to provide medical records of the Rev. Raymond Kownacki, 70, to attorneys representing James Wisniewski, 44, of Champaign and an unidentified second plaintiff. Both men state in their suits that Kownacki sexually abused them when they were boys.
Their lawsuits, filed well after the usual statute of limitations, were allowed under the legal theory that the men only relatively recently realized the psychological damage of the alleged abuse.
Kownacki could not be reached.
The high court lifted a $2,000 contempt of court fine and an order to pay $26,000 in plaintiff's attorneys' fees levied against the diocese last year by St. Clair County Circuit
The specified medical records, including any records of psychiatric or psychological treatments, pertain only to documents that existed before Jan. 9, 1979, when a medical record protection act went into effect in Illinois. It also applies to alcohol counseling evaluations that predate July 1, 1988, when a similar law took effect to An attorney for one of the plaintiffs said the documents will show that the diocese knew Kownacki was dangerous to children but did nothing.Supreme Court.
Monsignor James Margason, vicar general of the diocese, said Friday the ruling will be appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Margason said the diocese is fighting the court order to protect other Illinois residents from being forced to reveal medical and alcohol counseling records that predate the protection laws.
"It would apply to the medical records of anyone in Illinois," Margason said, adding that the diocese wants to protect its members and state residents from "the same kind of scrutiny."
Margason said lawyers for the diocese already have filed a motion with the appellate court for leave to file an appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court.Attorney Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., who represents the unidentified plaintiff, hailed the high court's decision.
"This is an important step for the survivors (of abuse) and it's a setback for those who want to keep secrets," Anderson said.
"Of course I'm delighted they are required to turn over the documents. The unfortunate part of this whole difficult and protracted litigation is that the bishops are claiming they want to be open but they're still trying to keep their secrets," he said.
Belleville attorney J. Michael Weilmuenster, who represents Wisniewski, declined comment.
"It's time for healing, not stonewalling," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"Belleville has a new bishop, and he should turn over a new leaf. Those records should have been turned over long, long ago," he said.
The Rev. Edward K. Braxton was installed as bishop of Belleville on June 22, replacing Wilton Gregory, who was promoted to archbishop of Atlanta.
The appellate court rejected the diocese's legal argument that Kownacki's records should be protected because provisions of the state's medical and alcohol counseling protection laws should be applied retroactively.Kownacki resides in Dupo and receives retirement benefits but no diocesan salary, Margason said. Kownacki is not allowed to wear a priest's collar, to officiate at Mass or provide religious counseling.
The former pastor of St. Martin of Tours Church in Washington Park, Kownacki was accused by a young woman of raping her beginning when she was 15 in 1970, performing voodoo rituals on her and then forcing her to have an abortion.
In 2000, the woman's 1995 lawsuit against Kownacki was dismissed because it was past the two-year statute of limitations.
On Jan. 13, 1995, Kownacki was removed from ministry.