Belleville Diocese Appeals $5 Million Verdict in Sex Abuse Case; Two Other Victims Have Come Forward

By George Pawlaczyk
November 26, 2008

BELLEVILLE -- Attorneys for the Diocese of Belleville today filed notice they will appeal a $5 million verdict awarded a former altar boy for sexual abuse by a priest, and two new alleged victims of the same priest have come forward.

Belleville attorney Mike Weilmuenster, co-counsel to former altar boy James Wisniewski of Champaign who won damages during a civil trial in St. Clair County Circuit Court in August, said the diocese filed notice of appeal to the Fifth Appellate Court in Mount Vernon.

Weilmuenster also said two men in their 40s he would not identify have come forward and said they were sexually abused as minors by the Rev. Raymond Kownacki, 73, of Dupo. Kownacki was removed from active ministry in 1995 by a diocesan review board whose members alleged he sexually abused minors. Kownacki has said he will not comment.

"They have come forward and asked us to investigate their cases," Weilmuenster said.

With the two recent complaints, the number of persons to state they were sexually abused by Kownacki is four counting Wisniewski and a "John Doe" whose case against the diocese is awaiting the setting of a trial date, Weilmuenster said. The two new complainants were not mentioned during the Wisniewski trial, the attorney said.

Bishop Edward Braxton, who has stated he does not respond to local media, could not be reached for comment. In a letter to parishioners, he has written that the diocese cannot afford to pay the award and would appeal.

Wisniewski, 47, testified that for several years beginning when he was about 13, Kownacki sexually abused him during a time when the clergyman was pastor of St. Theresa's Church in Salem.

During an eight day trial where former Bishop Wilton Gregory, now archbishop of Atlanta testified, jurors heard from witnesses and viewed documents that showed that church officials from more than 25 years ago knew that Kownacki was a child rapist. Instead of removing him from ministry, they reassigned him to unsuspecting parishes, testimony showed.

Gregory, like Braxton, was not a part of the church officials' decisions to reassign Kownacki, according to the trial testimony. Braxton was not assigned to Belleville until 2005.


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