Sex Abuse Lawsuit by Former Altar Boy May Go Forward If Diocese Engaged in Coverup, Judge Rules


August 4, 2008

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BELLEVILLE - A sex abuse lawsuit filed by a former altar boy against the Rev. Raymond Kownacki can go forward if a jury decides that the Diocese of Belleville engaged in a coverup.

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto ruled that if a jury decides that the diocese engaged in "fraudulent concealment" of sex abuse of the plaintff and other youths, the remaining issues in a lawsuit filed by James Wisniewski will go forward. Trial has been set for Aug. 18.

"This is the closest thing we've ever had in Belleville to a trial on sex abuse by a priest," said Dave Clohessy, executive director of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Wisneiwski filed suit in 2002 against Kownacki, who was removed from ministry in 1987. The suit also names the diocese and alleges psychological damage arising from being sexually molested between 1973-1978 beginning when Wisniewski 13 years old.

Kownacki, who could not be reached, is one of 13 priests in the diocese who were removed from active ministry. Most were removed after allegations of sexual abuse were investigated by a diocesan review panel of residents and clergy in the early 1990s. No criminal charges were ever filed against any of the priests. Only one, Robert Vonnahmen, was formally removed from the priesthood.

Monsignor James Margason, who was vicar general during the years when allegations against priests in the diocese were widespread, declined to comment. Margason, now the pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Shiloh, said because it is an ongoing legal matter, he is not allowed to comment.


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