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

By George Pawlaczyk
November 27, 2008

BELLEVILLE -- Diocese hears from two more men who claim abuse by same priest Attorneys for the Belleville Catholic Diocese filed notice Wednesday that they will appeal a $5 million verdict awarded to 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, an attorney for 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, saying 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.

Members of the St. Louis chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests called on Braxton to order Kownacki and other priests removed from ministry for sexually abusing minors into treatment centers for the safety of the public.

During a small demonstration Wednesday outside the Chancery Office, Barb Dorris, the SNAP national outreach director, said: "The bishop will spend millions on this appeal in interest (on the unpaid award) and lawyers fees, but he won't get the perps off the street."

Sue DeLorme, a member of the Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity, said, "I think the wider issue is a need to create an atmosphere for healing."

The half dozen members of both groups called on Braxton to withdraw his intent to appeal the Wisniewski verdict.

Wisniewski, 47, testified during the trial for his lawsuit filed in 2002 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 at which 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 testified that if the unrefuted testimony against Kownacki was true and church officials covered it up, then Wisniewski deserved a favorable verdict.

Neither Gregory nor Braxton were involved in the church officials' decisions to reassign Kownacki, according to the trial testimony. Braxton was not assigned to Belleville until 2005.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at and 239-2625.


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