Priest Is Rapist, Lawsuit Alleges; Woman Claims Abuse Lasted from 1970-73

By Robert Goodrich
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
March 1, 1995

A woman from Michigan claims that while in her teens, she was raped repeatedly, sexually abused and beaten by a Catholic priest in Washington Park. She says she even suffered an abortion at his hands.

The suit was filed Tuesday in circuit court in Belleville. It asks for more than $ 15,000 in damages - the amount needed for a jury trial - plus $ 15 million in punitive damages.

Named as defendants are the Rev. Raymond Kownacki of Belleville - who was removed as a priest in January by Bishop Wilton Gregory - and the Catholic Diocese of Belleville.

The plaintiff is Gina Trimble Parks, now living in Calhoun County, Mich. Her husband, Douglas, is co-plaintiff. He claims lingering effects of abuse have made a normal marriage relationship impossible.

According to the suit, Gina Trimble, then 15, met Kownacki in 1970 when he was assigned as parish priest at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in St. Francisville, Ill. She lived with her parents and eight brothers and sisters in nearby Wabash County. She was employed to clean the church.

Her suit says that in the fall of 1970, while she was cleaning Kownacki's bedroom, he asked if she would like to see a voodoo trick and then began chanting.

He closed the drapes and turned off the lights, the suit says. Then, the suit says, a Kownacki got on top of her and raped her. Kownacki said that he loved her and that she must never tell anyone, or her whole family would be excommunicated, the suit says.

Kownacki was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but a friend who answered the telephone at his home said the priest had left word that he would have no comment on the suit.

The Rev. James Margason, vicar general of the Belleville Diocese, said he hadn't seen the suit and wouldn't comment on it. "I really cannot discuss pending litigation," Margason said.

The suit says Gina Parks suffered emotional distress, which was reflected in lower grades at school. Parks says that in 1971 Kownacki, who was being transferred to St. Martin of Tours Parish in Washington Park, told her he was taking her with him so she could get better schooling.

She moved into the St. Martin's rectory and became Kownacki's housekeeper. Her suit says he exerted complete psychological control over her and she "served as his mistress," submitting to sexual intercourse once or twice each week.

In 1973, things got even worse after she had sex with a boy she was dating. According to the suit, Kownacki reacted violently. The suit says Kownacki held a gun to his head and threatened to kill himself, held a knife to Parks' throat, forced her at gunpoint to drive him around and raped her. A short time later, Parks discovered she was pregnant.

The suit says Kownacki told her to drink a quinine mixture and then squeezed her to induce abortion. She passed out and awoke in a pool of blood, the suit says. Somehow she made her way home to Wabash County, and was taken to a hospital, where she lost the fetus and underwent surgery for her injuries, the suit says.

Kownacki was reassigned to a parish in Salem. The suit says he continued to intimidate Parks by letter, had an unknown individual contact her husband and bragged of connections to organized crime.

In a separate statement, Parks says she and her husband hope their suit will encourage others who have suffered abuse to come forward. Douglas Parks said Tuesday night in a telephone interview that he and his wife were both getting counseling.

Gina Parks said in that statement that in 1973 she and her parents met with Bishop Albert Zuroweste, now deceased, and reported the sexual abuse in detail.

"I have been tortured by memories of sexual abuse which had been long since buried," she adds. "New memories continue to resurface almost daily."

Since March 1993, 11 priests and a deacon in the Belleville Diocese have been removed from active ministries over sexual misconduct allegations. Only one has been returned to his ministry.


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