Facing up to Past Sins


August 29, 2008

One of the prayers in the Catholic Church asks forgiveness for the sinful things people do, and also what they fail to do. Perhaps jurors in the James Wisniewski civil lawsuit were thinking about that prayer when they awarded him $5 million in damages -- $2.4 million in actual damages, and $2.6 million in punitive damages.

The actual damages may be for lasting effects of the sexual abuse Wisniewski suffered when he was a child at the hands of the Rev. Raymond Kownacki. The punitive damages may be for the abuse of power by the diocesan hierarchy. Rather than call the police or remove Kownacki from the ministry to protect Wisniewski and other children, they moved Kownacki from parish to unsuspecting parish. The jury also ruled the diocese fraudulently concealed the records of the abuse.

This trial makes the Catholic Church and its priests look bad. But most priests are good -- men who have never abused a child and who are also appalled with the hierarchy's failure to protect children. Those priests need the public's support now more than ever.

The diocese won't comment on whether it will appeal the ruling, but the decent thing to do would be to stop the legal fight. Even Wilton Gregory, the bishop sent to Belleville to clean up this mess, testified that if the testimony was true, Wisniewski deserved to win his case.

The verdict doesn't erase all that's happened, but it provides the opportunity for the diocese to reflect on the sins of the past and exhibit some level of contrition. Only then can true healing and absolution begin.


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