More Shocking Disclosures in Clergy Sex Abuse Trial

Illinois Lawyer Blog

August 27, 2008

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, there was some absolutely jaw-dropping testimony yesterday in a clergy sex abuse case trial currently underway in St. Clair County, Illinois. James Wisniewski, 47, is suing the Belleville, Illinois Diocese for for damages arising out of the years of sexual abuse committed upon him by Rev. Raymond Kownacki in the 1970's. Wisniewski has testified that Kownacki abused him some 40-50 times over a 5 year period beginning in 1973. Wisniewski further testified that Kownacki told him that the church "condoned" sexual abuse of minors and that if Wisniewski told anyone about the abuse, Kownacki would kill the boy's parents and ruin their business. To drive home the point, Kownacki showed Wisniewski a handgun. In addition, there has been evidence that Kownacki raped a 16 year old girl and aborted her fetus with his hands.

Bishop Wilton Gregory testified yesterday[Tuesday] for the defense. And it didn't go well for the Diocese. Bishop Gregory was brutally honest in his testimony and dropped a couple of bombs.

First, Gregory didn't particularly help the diocese on the issue of liability. He agreed that the Diocese would be liable if, prior to Wisniewski being abused, the Diocese was aware that Kownacki was molesting children, and simply moved him from parish to parish without warning. Previous testimony has indicated that is precisely what happened.

In addition, Gregory testified that there appeared to be an active cover-up orchestrated by the Diocese when he was leading an investigation into sexual abuse of minors in the 1990's. Gregory testified that "dozens" of documents, concerning young victims of certain priests, including Kownacki, may have been withheld from him. Reports on Kownacki dating back to 1973 and 1982 were "not filed where the should have been filed". The evidence has already shown that the Diocese was well aware of the missing reports before Gregory started his investigation.

Gregory also weighed in the propriety of the string of transfers allowing Kownacki to go from one parish to the next without any warnings to parishioners. Gregory ackowleged that after a half dozen reports about alleged abuse, he never would have approved the final transfer to St. Henry's Parish in Belleville - where Kownacki lived next door to an elementary school.

And fomer Vicar General Monsignor James Margason also testified yesterday. He was the last witness for the defense. Rev. Margason is a canon lawyer certified to represent accused priests. Margason testified that he was aware, prior to Gregory's investigation, of the reports about Kownacki raping the 16 year old gir and aborting her fetus. Margason was also aware, prior to Gregory's investigation, of reports that Kownacki was molesting twin boys from Guatemala. Finally, Margason was aware, prior to Gregory's investigation, that there were reports of two other victims, including Wisnieski. So what did the Vicar General Monsignor Margason do when Gregory began his investigation? What did Vicar General Monsignor Margason, the canon lawyer do? He withheld the reports. Margason admitted that in so doing he breached church law and Review Board Guidelines[not to mention basic laws of human decency].

Margason was also asked about his actions when he became aware of allegations against Kownacki in 1986, after a housekeeper found a love note signed by Kownacki and directed to a young boy, asking the youth to come to his bedroom and "give him a massage". The Vicar General Monsignor took Kownacki's word that nothing had happened. Margason took the word of a guy he knew had raped a 16 year old girl and aborted the fetus with his own hands.

Margason also admitted that he was obligated to punish Kownacki for engaging in the abortion, but failed to do so. So although the church doesn't hesitate to viciously condemn those who support the right to choose, it doesn't lift a finger when one of its own performs an abortion on a girl he raped. Hypocrisy run amuk.

Most trial advocacy experts say you should finish your case with a good, strong witness for your client. Maybe the lawyers for the Diocese didn't take Trial Advocacy in law school.

The verdict is expected soon. I hope the plaintiff breaks the Diocese bank.


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