Ill. Diocese to Appeal Priest-Abuse Judgment

Fort Mill Times
November 26, 2008

MOUNT VERNON, Ill. — Attorneys for a Roman Catholic diocese in southwestern Illinois filed notice Wednesday that they will appeal a jury award of $5 million to a former altar boy who was sexually abused by a priest.

Attorneys for the Diocese of Belleville filed notice of appeal with the 5th District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon, said Mike Weilmuenster, a lawyer representing James Wisniewski of Champaign, the former altar boy.

An attorney for the diocese did not immediately return a telephone message Wednesday afternoon.

In August, a jury awarded Wisniewski $5 million in damages in his 2002 lawsuit alleging the Rev. Raymond Kownacki sexually abused him for five years in the 1970s beginning when he was 13. The lawsuit also claimed the diocese concealed Kownacki's suspected behavior and quietly shuffled him among parishes without warning each site's parishioners.

Kownacki hasn't been charged criminally and wasn't named in the lawsuit. He has an unlisted phone number.

Belleville Bishop Edward Braxton had announced plans to appeal the verdict in a letter to parishioners in September, saying the payout could drain the diocese's coffers and crimp outreach.

"I believe that the course we are following is the wisest at this juncture," Braxton wrote.

Meanwhile, Weilmuenster said two additional men in their 40s now claim Kownacki sexually abused them.

"They have come forward and asked us to investigate their cases," Weilmuenster told the Belleville News-Democrat. That brings the number of alleged victims to four, including a man identified in court papers as "John Doe" who is also suing the diocese, he said.


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