Archbishop Gregory to Testify in Sex Abuse Case against Belleville Diocese

By George Pawlaczyk

August 26, 2008

BELLEVILLE - Archbishop Wilton Gregory is scheduled to take the witness stand today in a St. Clair County civil trial involving a former altar boy who alleges that beginning when he was 13, he was sexually abused for years by a Belleville Diocese priest.

Gregory, who served as bishop of Belleville from 1993 to 2004, is now archbishop of Atlanta and has been mentioned in media reports to be in line for the vacant position of archbishop of New York City. Such a position could lead to Gregory being named a cardinal.

The lawsuit, brought by James Wisniewski, 47, of Champaign, alleges that the Rev. Raymond Kownacki sexually abused him during 1973-1978, causing psychological damage that manifested as post traumatic stress disorder in 2002.

Bishop Wilton Gregory

St. Louis attorney David Wells, who represents the diocese, told Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto at the close of trial Monday, that Gregory would be one of two defense witnesses to take the stand today. The other is former vicar general Monsignor James Margason, who already has testified for the plaintiff.

According to testimony over the course of the trial, which began Aug. 18, Gregory is likely to be asked questions concerning why certain documents were left out of Kownacki's personnel file. Gregory reviewed the files of priests accused of sexually abusing minors, but the only file he turned over to a review board was Kownacki's. A total of 14 priests, including Kownacki, were removed in the 1990s for sexually abusing a minor. Several were removed by Gregory alone and the remainder were removed by Gregory after recommendations from the review board.

Margaret Mensen, the former administrator of the review board, testified Monday that she believed when she began the job in 1993 that diocese officials would turn over any file they thought contained information about abuse or about potential victims. Under cross examination, she testified she did not actually ask for any files.

Mensen testified that the only file she received from Gregory -- Kownacki's -- did not contain a former vicar general's transcribed notes about a 1973 meeting in which the names of other alleged victims were mentioned or a 1982 letter that mentioned Wisniewski as a victim. Mensen said she never learned of those documents until being deposed this year by plaintiff's attorneys Mike Weilmuenster and Steve Wigginton.

When she received Kownacki's file, Mensen said she could not make any copies and was allowed only to take handwritten notes while being watched by a witness.

Also tomorrow, Wisniewski is scheduled to take the witness stand in the morning as the last witness for the plaintiff.

His wife Carol Wisniewski testified today that her husband's personality changed dramatically for the worse after he told her in 2002 he had been sexually abused as a boy by Kownacki.

"The husband I fell in love with and married is not the same person," she said.

In his civil suit, Wisniewski alleges that he contracted post traumatic stress disorder as a result of hearing widespread reports of priest sexual abuse of minors in the Archdiocese of Boston, and remembering his own abuse by a priest.

Under cross examination by defense attorney Cathie Schroeder of St. Louis, Wisniewski said that despite her husband's medical diagnosis of PTSD, he still manages to put in 70 to 80 hours a week running the couple's custom framing business.

The defense has stated that the diocese promptly enacted a policy in 1993 that resulted in the removal of suspected priests.

Weilmuenster said in opening arguments that the diocese covered up abuse by Kownacki and other priests for more than 20 years, and left a paper trail that has resulted in more than 40 courtroom exhibits.

Kownacki, 73, who, according to earlier testimony suffered a stroke and cannot attend the trial, has stated he will not comment. On Sunday, he came to the door of his apartment in Dupo and appeared alert mentally. He declined an interview, stating he has trouble hearing.

Carol Wisniewski testified that she was reading a magazine in 2002 about the priest abuse in Boston and asked her husband whether he had been abused. After first denying it, James Wisniewski then told his wife that when he was about 13 and an altar boy at St. Theresa's Parish in Salem, Kownacki began sexually molesting him. The lawsuit alleges the abuse continued over five years.

"He wanted to know if the diocese ever knew that anything had happened," Wisniewski said about her husband's initial reaction after he told her about the abuse.

"Did you know in graphic detail," what had happened to her husband, plaintiff's attorney Wigginton asked.

"I don't want to know," Carol Wisniewski said.

Asked how she feels toward the diocese, she said, "I'm very angry at them. It's affected our family. It's affected our kids. It's affected our faith."

The final testimony heard Monday was a deposition recorded earlier this year of Champaign psychiatrist David Copacz who treated Wisniewski in 2002. "I have no doubt in my mind that what Jim was telling me was the truth," Copacz said in the deposition.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at or 239-2625.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.