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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Release

Final court appearance in $6.3 mill clergy sex case is Wed-9 a.m.

There’s a hearing at 9 a.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, in front of Judge Cueto in Belleville at which the Catholic diocese is expected to turn over $6+ million to an attorney representing a clergy sex abuse victim.

The perpetrator in the case recently moved into south St. Louis city.

Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 862 7688 home, 314 503 0003 cell, [email protected])

David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, [email protected])

Sunday, Aug. 07, 2011

Belleville Diocese gives up the fight; will pay former altar boy $6.33 million


After a legal battle that began in 2002, the Catholic Diocese of Belleville has agreed to pay a former altar boy in connection with sexual abuse by one of its priests in the early 1970s.

Mike Weilmuenster, attorney for James Wisniewski, of Champaign, said Friday that a hearing in St. Clair County Circuit Court will be Wednesday where checks totaling $6.33 million will be turned over to Wisniewski and his counsel.

The decision by the diocese to pay the $5 million court judgment rendered in 2008 plus interest that has accrued at $1,250 per day followed a recent second denial by the Illinois Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the case.

The payment marks the second time the diocese will have paid a victim of the Rev. Raymond Kownacki, 76, formerly of Dupo, who moved recently to an assisted care facility on Lansdowne Avenue in St. Louis, according to public records. In 2009, the diocese paid $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a man identified only as "John Doe" who was also sexually abused by Kownacki, who was removed from ministry more than 15 years ago because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors. He has stated he will not comment.

Belleville Bishop Edward Braxton issued a one paragraph statement confirming that the money will be paid.

"The diocese continues to express regret for any instances of childhood sexual abuse by a member of its clergy," Braxton said in the statement. "The diocese is committed to adhering to its Child Protection Policy, and will continue to assist victims and their families in furtherance of that policy ..." That statement was nearly word-for-word the same as one issued when the $1.2 million was paid.

David Clohessy, executive director of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, challenged Braxton to publicly post Kownacki's name and address and those of at least another 14 Belleville diocese priests removed from ministry because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

"This is an inexpensive and quick step the bishop can take to protect kids," Clohessy said. "I think the best move Braxton could make for Jim and for every Southern Illinois Catholic and citizen would be to post on his website the names of predator priests so its tougher for them to gain access to kids. Names and addresses, work histories, photos."

Clohessy said that in the United States, 24 other bishops have publicly posted the names of priests believed by diocesan officials to have abused children.

"Any kind of real reform and prevention step most victims find much more healing and certainly parents find more beneficial than some carefully crafted very late and dollar short apology," Clohessy said.

Weilmuenster said the money for Wisniewski is guaranteed by a combination of insurance and more than $4 million previously placed in an escrow account controlled by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto, the lawsuit trial judge.

"I was approached by defense counsel last week and was told they decided they didn't want to pursue it any farther and we needed to agree on the exact figure," Weilmuenster said. "This will allow Jim to try to heal from the damage caused by the abuse."

Weilmuenster said he approached former Belleville bishop Wilton Gregory just before the lawsuit was filed in 2002 in an attempt to reach a settlement, but was rebuffed. Gregory is now archbishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Pat Chivers, the communications director in the archdiocese, said Friday evening that she would try to reach Gregory for a comment.

Braxton could not be reached for comment. He was not the bishop during the time Wisniewski was abused or when church officials, according to the civil jury verdict, covered it up. Braxton has a policy of not commenting to local media.

During the trial, testimony showed that the diocese knew that Kownacki had been accused of sexually abusing children, both a girl and several boys, but kept reassigning him to parishes without warning parishioners.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at [email protected] or 239-2625

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