Ex-Priest Presses Privacy Case

By Philip Ewing
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [Springfield IL]
March 23, 2006

Illinois privacy laws protect the mental health records of a former Belleville priest accused of child molestation, even though the records predated the laws, the ex-priest's attorneys told the Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Lawyers for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville and the former priest, Raymond Kownacki, argued that laws enacted in 1979 and 1988 protect documents relating to Kownacki's psychological treatment and alcohol abuse.

But attorneys for one of his accusers, James Wisniewski, alleged that Kownacki and the diocese are misusing the law to cloak nonmedical records.

The records, if released, would likely be used to argue that the church knew that Kownacki was abusing children during the 1970s and did not act. The court is expected to rule in the next few months.

Kownacki was removed from the ministry in 1995 amid abuse allegations.

A St. Clair County circuit judge and the Fifth District Appellate Court have already ordered the diocese to turn over the records, saying they weren't covered by the confidentiality laws.

But Kownacki's lawyer, Ted McDonald, said the confidentiality law had to apply to all records, even ones that predated it, or it wouldn't make any sense. As an example, he said it would be as though the Legislature passed a law that said no trees could be cut down, but the law was then enforced only on seedlings planted the day the law took effect.

Wisniewski's suit, filed in 2002, alleges that Kownacki abused him for five years beginning in 1973, when Wisniewski was a child.

Another man, identified only as "John Doe," has an abuse suit against Kownacki pending.

A woman sued Kownacki in 1995, saying she was a housekeeper for Kownacki in the 1970s. She alleged that Kownacki had beaten and raped her. She said he impregnated her and then gave her poison to cause an abortion.

The state Supreme Court threw out her case because it exceeded the statute of limitations.


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