Belleville Diocese Asks Illinois Supreme Court to Stop Trial Concerning Priest Sex Abuse of a Minor

By George Pawlaczyk

August 8, 2008

BELLEVILLE - Lawyers for the Diocese of Belleville have filed a request to the Illinois Supreme Court to overrule a circuit judge's order and stop a civil trial set for Aug. 18 concerning priest sex abuse of a minor and whether church officials engaged in a cover-up.

A 12-page proposed motion by attorneys for the diocese and for the Rev. Raymond Kownacki asks the high court for a "supervisory order" reversing St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto's ruling that the trial was not barred by time limits.

It specifically asks for an order directing Cueto to dismiss the case.

Attorney David Wells of St. Louis, who represents the diocese, said the request was forwarded Thursday to the high court. He declined further comment.

James Wisniewski is suing Kownacki and the diocese for psychological damages he alleges occurred between 1973-1978 beginning when he was a 13-year-old altar boy at St. Theresa's Parish in Salem.

Kownacki, of Dupo, was removed in 1995 from active ministry following years of complaints that he sexually molested boys and girls. He could not be reached today but previously has said he does not wish to comment.

The Rev. Jack McEvilly, vicar general for the diocese, said he cannot comment on a pending legal matter.

"This is a heartless, cowardly and desperate move by Catholic officials who are terrified of having the truth about their corruption exposed in a court room," said Dave Clohessy, executive director of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Cueto ruled that despite the length of time from when the case occurred and when Wisniewski said he first became aware in 2002 from widespread news reports of priest abuse elsewhere that he had suffered damage, a trial could go forward. Cueto qualified his ruling by stating that before the jury could decide on whether Kownacki sexually abused Wisniewski, they must first decide that church officials had engaged in "fraudulent concealment" of the allegations. If the jury decided concealment had not occurred, then the trial would end with no further deliberations.

In the motion filed, Wells contended that Cueto, "...misapplied and miscontrued the law..."

A supervisory order from the Supreme Court is usually sought when issues of law that could have widespread effect are involved. Cueto's order allowing the trial to go forward was not appealable except through the unusual method of applying for a supervisory order of the Supreme Court.


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