Belleville Diocese Posts $5.9 Million Bond to Cover Court Settlement
Church Moves Forward on Appeal

By George Pawlaczyk
December 10, 2008

BELLEVILLE -- An attorney for the Diocese of Belleville posted a $5.9 million bond Tuesday in St. Clair County Court to cover a $5 million judgment and daily interest over two years if an appeal fails.

The daily interest rate is $1,233, according to a court document.

If the appeal is not decided by August 2010, then an additional bond for an undisclosed amount must be filed.

The judgment resulted from a civil court verdict Aug. 27 that awarded compensatory and punitive damages in a lawsuit brought by James Wisniewski of Champaign. Wisniewski, 47, stated that the Rev. Raymond Kownacki of Dupo sexually molested him when he was an altar boy beginning at about age 13 at a church in Salem.

Testimony and evidence put forth during trial by Wisniewski's attorneys, Steve Wigginton and Mike Weilmuenster of Belleville, including many church documents, showed that diocesan officials knew that Kownacki, 73, repeatedly raped and molested minors but continued to reassign the priest to unsuspecting parishes. Kownacki was removed from active ministry in 1995 by a diocesan review board that ruled he sexually abused minors. Kownacki has stated he will not comment.

Testimony that Kownacki committed the sexual crimes and that diocese officials covered it up went unrefuted during the eight-day trial.

Wigginton said that new accounts of alleged crimes by Kownacki have come from two now-adult victims who came to the law firm since the Wisniewski verdict.

"We're finding out new information regarding the diocese's knowledge that we were not even aware of in the first trial," Wigginton said.

Bishop Edward Braxton, who made the decision to appeal the jury's verdict, could not be reached.

In a Sept. 27 letter to parishioners, Braxton announced his decision to appeal and referred to Wisniewski as, "a gentleman who was allegedly abused by a priest of our diocese." Braxton said the diocese could not afford to pay the $5 million.

Braxton was not named bishop until 2005, nearly 22 years after the time Wisniewski testified Kownacki began his sexual molestations.

Still another lawsuit filed by a fourth alleged victim, "is continuing to move forward," Wigginton said. That case has yet to be set for trial.

St. Louis attorney David Wells, who represents the diocese, could not be reached for comment.

Wigginton said that the diocese, which previously filed a notice of appeal, must now wait for the Fifth Appellate Court in Mt. Vernon to set a schedule for the filing of documents.

An appeal will take at least a year, Wigginton said.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at and 239-2625.


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