Groups Call for Belleville Diocese to Speak out about Sexual Abuse


September 8, 2008

Two citizen watchdog groups today called on members of a Belleville Diocese review board to speak out concerning recent civil court testimony of cover-ups of priest sexual abuse of minors or resign.

The groups are the Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity (FOSIL) and of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Anne Harter, of the Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity, appears with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests national director Barbara Dorris, right, and SNAP member Anne Gleeson, left, on Monday afternoon outside the Belleville Catholic diocese chancery office.

Belleville Bishop Edward Braxton, who was in a meeting, was left a letter from FOSIL asking that he reject filing an appeal of the jury verdict handed up Aug. 27 in the trial that resulted from a lawsuit filed by James Wisniewski, who alleges that as a boy he was sexual abused by the Rev. Raymond Kownacki. Wisniewski was awarded $5 million in damages after a seven-day trial that included testimony that high-ranking diocese officials knew that Kownacki was a rapist and sexual abuser of children but covered it up for years. Kownacki was one of 15 priests removed from active ministry in 1995 after the review board found "credible evidence" that he sexually abused children. Another priest was removed because of sexual addiction involving adults.

During a press conference outside the Chancery in Belleville, Anne Gleeson, a SNAP member, called on members of the current review board to "resign or speak out."

Review board chairman Mike Nester, a Belleville attorney, could not be reached.

Anne Harter of the fellowship group, in her letter to Braxton, stated, "In case after case all across this country, many Catholic bishops and other officials have used every possible legal move to beat and shame victims in court and even to prevent victims from getting to court...You can choose a different path."

Braxton could not be reached.

Harter said that copies of the letter left for Braxton also were sent to Pope Benedict XVI, to Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope's U.S. representative and to Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago.

Mike Weilmuenster, one of two Belleville attorneys who represented Wisniewski during the trial, said today that he has not been notified of whether the diocese intends to appeal.

The diocese' attorneys could not be reached.


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