Testimony: Gregory Released Priest File Missing Information on Other Victims

By George Pawlacz
August 23, 2008

[with link to the transcript of testimony by the Rev. Joseph Schwaegel]

BELLEVILLE — After former Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory reviewed personnel files of priests suspected of sexually abusing minors, the only one he turned over to a special review board was missing key reports about other victims, according to testimony Friday in a civil trial in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

The omissions prevented the board from investigating and offering counseling to at least four potential victims, testified Margaret Mensen, the panel's civilian administrator from 1993 to 1998. The seven-member board of civilians and Catholic clergy was created in 1993 to investigate allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Pdf: Testimony of Rev. Joseph Schwaegel from Aug. 22

Gregory, now archbishop of Atlanta, could not be reached for comment.

Mensen testified that any diocesan employee, including a bishop, who does not immediately make known all information about alleged sexual abuse of minors, even if the allegations go back many years, violates church law and special regulations connected to the review board.

She stated that diocesan officials did not assist her in getting the cooperation of accused priests who refused to submit to questioning by the board.

Mensen's testimony came during a trial that began Monday involving a 2002 lawsuit brought by former altar boy James Wisniewski, 47, of Champaign, who alleges that beginning at age 13, he was sexually abused by the Rev. Raymond Kownacki for five years. The lawsuit, which seeks damages for psychological harm, names the diocese as the only defendant.

Wisniewski's name was listed in one of the documents left out of Kownacki's personnel file when Gregory sent it to the review board, Mensen testified. She said if she had known about Wisniewski, his case would have been investigated in 1994 and he would have been offered counseling.

Kownacki, 73, of Dupo, suffered a stroke and is not able to attend the trial. He has stated he will not comment. He was removed from ministry in 1995 after the review board found evidence that he sexually abused minors.

Also on Friday, St. Louis psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Petersen testified Wisniewski developed post traumatic stress disorder in 2002 after news stories about sexual abuse of minors by priests in Boston made national news. Petersen said Wisniewski, as a 13-year-old, had little chance of preventing abuse by an authoritarian figure such as a priest who told him the sexual misconduct was not wrong.

Defense attorney David Wells, of Boston, said in his opening statement Wednesday that the case is really about money. He sharply questioned Petersen about the stress disorder diagnosis, but the psychiatrist held firm in his diagnosis.

Wisniewski is expected to take the witness stand Monday.

Mensen testified that she learned details of the repeated rape of a teenage girl in Washington Park and other child-sex allegations involving Kownacki in the 1970s only by traveling out of state and investigating on her own. She said diocesan officials provided only two letters written by Kownacki to the girl.

Under questioning by plaintiff's attorney Mike Weilmuenster of Belleville, Mensen was shown documents showing that former Belleville Bishop James Keleher, former vicar general Monsignor James Margason and former vice chancellor the Rev. Joseph Schwaegel had known for years about detailed written reports that the girl was raped and about other sexual crimes against children allegedly committed by Kownacki.

The documents also show that instead of calling police or sending Kownacki for treatment, he was reassigned at least seven times to parishes where the parishioners were not told about the allegations of sexual abuse. The last reassignment was in 1988, when Kownacki was sent to live in a church residence next door to a Catholic grade school and high school in Belleville.

Margason and Schwaegel previously testified that they did not investigate the girl's allegations or report them to civil authorities, as required by church law. Keleher, who is retired as the archbishop of Kansas City, Kan., could not be reached for comment.

According to a report shown in court written by former Vicar General Bernard Sullivan, the girl and her parents met with Sullivan and former Belleville Bishop Albert Zuroweste in 1973, shortly after the alleged rapes. That report was never given to the review board, but was obtained by the plaintiff's attorney.

Mensen said Zuroweste and Sullivan, both deceased, never again contacted the girl.

"She felt she was abandoned by the diocese," Mensen testified.

In answer to questions posed by Weilmuenster, Mensen said the victim, now married and in her early 40s, said after she became pregnant at 16, presumably by Kownacki who had hired her for $1 an hour to be his housekeeper, the priest used his fingers in an attempt to abort her fetus. But what was not made public until Friday was that the fetus "died in utero as a result of Father Kownacki's abortion effort," Mensen testified.

Mensen also said that the girl's father told her that when he confronted Kownacki about the harm to his daughter, the priest "laughed in his face."

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at or 239-2625.


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