|Diocese Didn't Provide Information to Board Reviewing Sex Abuse Allegations
By George Pawlaczyk
August 9, 2008
Personnel files were put in 'secret archive'
BELLEVILLE - Belleville Diocese officials possessed numerous documents concerning alleged sexual abuse of minors by priests but did not offer them to a citizens review board set up to investigate and help victims, according to transcripts filed in a 2002 civil law suit.
The Rev. Jack McEvilly, the diocese's vicar general, said, "Since this is pending litigation, we are unable to comment."
The documents included the personnel folders of more than a dozen accused priests who were eventually removed from active ministry after allegations of sex abuse of minors.
They also included reports from the 1970s compiled by former vicar general Monsignor Bernard Sullivan that were not placed in personnel files but were kept in a small safe referred to as the "secret archives," according to court documents. The records concerned allegations of sex abuse against two priests eventually removed from ministry -- the Rev. Raymond Kownacki and the Rev. Jerome Ratermann, the transcripts state.
According to lawsuit deposition testimony of former vicar general Monsignor James Margason, "The secret archives is a small safe that was kept within the locked archives of the diocese -- a larger room." Margason stated he did not know why Sullivan's records on the priests were kept separately.
The transcripts show that Margason, former Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory's representative to the review board, did not tell the review board details of abuse he had learned about, including the names of victims unknown to the board. Margason declined to comment on a pending legal matter.
The transcripts also show that the review board did not request the priest personnel files and was satisfied with Gregory's decision that he would first review them and turn over any he deemed the board should see. The single personnel file given to the board more than a year after they began to meet in 1993 was Kownacki's.
The transcripts of depositions of Margason and of Margie Mensen, the former administrator of the review board, provide a preview of the civil trial set for Aug. 18 in St. Clair County Circuit Court. Mensen could not be reached.
But that trial may never be held if the Illinois Supreme Court responds favorably to a request by the diocese filed Friday asking that the lawsuit be dismissed on statute of limitations grounds. Lawyers for the diocese also have requested that the trial date be postponed. They have asked for a "supervisory order," a relatively unusual procedure.
Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto has ruled that if a jury first finds that church officials engaged in "fraudulent concealment" of abuse, then time limit concerns in the lawsuit filed by James Wisniewski in 2002 will be overcome.
The complaint names Kownacki and the diocese. If concealment is found, only then could the jury decide whether Kownacki sexually assaulted Wisniewski when he was a 13-year-old altar boy between 1973-1978, causing him psychological damage. Kownacki could not be reached. He has stated he will not comment.
During deposition questioning July 2 by Belleville plaintiff's attorney Mike Weilmuenster, Margason answered "No" each time he was asked whether he told Mensen about allegations that named specific boys and one girl Kownacki allegedly abused or attempted to abuse, according to court documents. The incidents involved Wisniewski, whose name was never known to the board, and because of that he was never offered counseling. The names of some of the other boys and the girl were never made known to the review board, according to the transcripts.
Mensen testified that when she talked to Kownacki about the allegations against him, "He neither denied nor admitted. He was very nonresponsive."
In 2007, Margason testified during a deposition that when allegations against Kownacki first surfaced in 1973, before he was vicar general and had no direct involvement in investigating priest abuse, the diocese did not contact police and did not investigate on its own.
But Margason said he did investigate reports during the mid 1980s from parents and a priest that Kownacki was having sexual relations with boys that he had asked to sleep over at a parish rectory in Harrisburg. Margason stated that the boys and Kownacki denied that anything improper had occurred and that he ordered the youths to leave the rectory.
Mensen testified that had she or the board been given information about sex abuse victims in the diocese, they would have investigated. She also stated that had the diocese provided any specific data about allegations that Kownacki had sexually assaulted boys when he was serving as a priest in Guatemala, the board would have tried to investigate that and offer counseling to those youths.
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at email@example.com or 239-2625.
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