Guest View: an Appeal to Diocese: Save US the Extra Cost

October 8, 2008

Recently I received a copy of the letter that Bishop Edward Braxton asked priests of the Belleville Diocese to read to the Catholic laity. I was astounded. He directed diocesan attorneys to seek a new trial on the $5 million judgment. It was obvious he had not attended the Wisniewski v. Catholic Diocese of Belleville trial.

I attended most of the trial. As a retired attorney and former Catholic priest, I believe Braxton's announcement that he will seek a new trial (a necessary legal step before appealing the $5 million judgment against the diocese) is flat-out wrong.

From a legal perspective, there is no chance the trial court will reverse the jury's verdict. Furthermore, there is no chance the appellate court will reverse the jury's verdict. Why? The reasons are obvious for any legal or lay observer: The diocese hid evidence of the Rev. Ray Kownacki's serial raping of young boys and raping of young girls. Bishops moved Kownacki from parish to parish, never telling parishioners in the parishes from which he was moved and never telling parishioners to which he was to be moved of his moral perversion.

After Kownacki was removed from the ministry after more than 30 years of destroying the lives of young boys and girls, Monsignor James Margason hid the names of victims from Marge Mensen, the person Bishop Wilton Gregory appointed to investigate pedophilia in the diocese. At the trial Margason admitted he hid this information.

From a moral perspective, it is obvious to any person of decent moral character this judgment that the jury of laymen hearing this case awarded must be paid.

From a financial perspective, delaying payment is economically disasterous for the diocese. Illinois law mandates 9 percent be paid on every judgment not overturned by the appellate court. It will take at least 18 months for a judgment of the appellate court to be handed down. At 9 percent a judgment compounded annually for 18 months is more than $695,000.

Besides the more than $695,000 in interest, the diocese must pay attorney's fees. While I do not know the exact amount the attorneys for the diocese are being paid, I do know that attorneys in major civil defense law firms, such as the one the diocese hired, are paid a very substantial fee; perhaps $750 per hour for the senior attorney, $450 per hour for a middle level attorney, and $300 per hour for a lower level attorney. The diocese had all three in the courtroom during the trial. The attorney fees for the appeal, in my estimate, will cost significantly more than $100,000. In other words, interest and attorney fees, according to my estimate, will exceed $800,000.

I must ask a cynical question: Will Braxton ask an "anonymous donor" to pay the attorney fees and interest costs? He said an anonymous donor paid the hundreds of thousands he spent to have the bishop's house prepared as his residence, the gold vestments he purchased for his use and the furniture he bought from the money collected for the poor. That anonymous donor friend of his will need a very deep pocket.

Gerald Montroy lives in O'Fallon.


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