Belleville Diocese Ends Sex-Abuse Investigations; Officials Announce Removal of Two Priests from Active Ministries

By Robert Kelly
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
November 25, 1995

The Belleville Catholic Diocese F has permanently barred two priests from active ministries, thus ending almost three years of investigations of sexual-abuse allegations against priests.

Resolution Friday of the cases against the Revs. Raymond Kownacki and Louis Peterson, both of Belleville, means that no cases are pending before a review board set up by the diocese in 1993 to investigate reports of sexual abuse by priests.

It's the first time since the board was established that it is investigating no allegations, said the Rev. James Margason, vicar general of the diocese.

"That is a hopeful sign" that clergy sexual-abuse concerns that have rocked the Southern Illinois diocese since early in 1993 may be coming to an end, Margason said.

Even so, he was reluctant to say the problems were over. He said the review board would remain in place and would be activated to examine any new allegations that might be made.

In all, 13 priests and a deacon have been removed from active ministries since March 1993 in the diocese, which covers most of Southern Illinois. Only one of those priests was returned to an active ministry after his review board evaluation was completed.

Margason said the diocese now has about 100 active priests covering 128 parishes. Twenty seminarians are studying for the priesthood in the diocese, and all parishes have been served despite the problems started by the sexual-abuse investigation.

None of those removed by the diocese faces criminal charges. State's Attorney Robert Haida of St. Clair County has said that his office is investigating the allegations but that many of them were from 15 to 20 years ago and beyond the statute of limitations for prosecution.

Margason declined to discuss reasons why neither Kownacki nor Peterson would be returned to active ministries. Both priests were unavailable for comment Friday.

Kownacki is named in a civil suit filed earlier this year by a woman who claims she was raped and abused by him in the early 1970s when she was in her teens.

The woman, Gina Trimble Parks, is now in her 30s, married and living in Michigan. In the pending suit, she asks for a jury trial and more than $ 15,000 in damages, plus $ 15 million in punitive damages.

Kownacki was placed on administrative leave by the diocese in January, and he declined to comment on the suit when it was filed. Before his leave, he most recently was chaplain of the Poor Clare Monastery in Belleville.

Peterson resigned last weekend as pastor of St. Teresa Catholic Church, 1201 Lebanon Avenue in Belleville. He had requested and had been granted an administrative leave from his pastoral duties in January 1994.

Although no criminal charges were filed, Peterson had been accused of sexually abusing a boy who attended St. Teresa School in the early 1990s.

Peterson has been replaced as pastor of the church by the Rev. Donald Eichenseer, who had been the parish administrator.

Eichenseer said Friday that Peterson had left no message with the parish recently, although Peterson had issued a statement about a year ago denying the sexual-abuse allegations against him.

Eichenseer said he felt welcomed by St. Teresa's parishioners who had strongly supported Peterson during Peterson's leave.

"The one thing people have kept saying to me is that they wanted to bring this (investigation) to some conclusion," Eichenseer said.


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