The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Friday, January 14, 2011
IL appeals court, upholds $5 million verdict in pedophile priest case
Statement by 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])
We are grateful that these judges are rejecting the Belleville Catholic bishop's callous legal maneuver. We applaud the victim's patience and persistence in seeking justice and exposing wrong-doing. And we deplore Bishop Braxton's selfish and fiscally irresponsible conduct in this case.
At the cost of $1,200 each day, Bishop Braxton is dragging out an expensive, hurtful legal process that delays healing for a deeply wounded man who has already suffered tremendously. His goal, we suspect, is to deter other clergy sex abuse victims into keeping silent. We hope his strategy backfires.
Parishioners must be embarrassed by an alleged spiritual leader who essentially admits horrific clergy sex crimes and cover ups but tries to exploit an archaic and arbitrary legal technicality to evade responsibility.
We know there are others who were assaulted as kids by Kownacki and other Belleville predator priests. We hope each of them will find the courage and compassion to step forward and start healing.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, [email protected]), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, [email protected]), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, [email protected]), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, [email protected])
Friday, Jan. 14, 2011
Belleville diocese loses appeal in sex abuse lawsuit; $5 million verdict stands
BY GEORGE PAWLACZYK - News-Democrat
In a decision made public Thursday, the 5th District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon rejected arguments by the Catholic Diocese of Belleville that a 2008 civil trial jury verdict that awarded $5 million to a former altar boy allegedly sexually abused by a priest should be overturned
In an 85-page decision, of which nearly half was dedicated to a summary of decades of sexual abuse against boys and at least one girl allegedly committed by the Rev. Raymond Kownacki and repeated coverups of this activity by former diocese officials, the three-member panel of judges voted 2-1 to uphold the verdict.
Kownacki was removed from priestly duties in 1995 by a diocesan review board after numerous articles in the News-Democrat about sexual abuse by local priests. Kownacki, who has stated he will not comment, lives in Dupo.
Belleville plaintiff attorney Mike Weilmuenster -- who with his former law partner, current U.S. Attorney Steve Wigginton, prevailed during a five-day trial in St. Clair County Circuit Court -- said the diocese can petition the Illinois Supreme Court to hear another appeal.
A spokesman for the diocese could not be reached. In 2008, in a letter to parishioners, Belleville Bishop Edward Braxton expressed sympathy for victims of sexual abuse by priests without mentioning Kownacki by name. He said also that the diocese could not afford to pay a $5 million judgment.
Weilmuenster said that if the state's highest court elects not to hear the case, the diocese must pay $5 million, plus $1.1 million that has accrued in interest calculated at $1,233 per day, or about $6.1 million in all.
"Hopefully the diocese will do the right thing and the Christian thing and finally see that this man gets justice. But if their past conduct is anything to go by, I wouldn't hold my breath," Weilmuenster said.
The main issue in the appeal by the diocese was that the legal claims by James Wisniewski, of Champaign, that he was harmed by being sexually molested by Kownacki in the mid-1970s, when he was a 13-year-old altar boy at St. Theresa's Parish in Salem, were past the statute of limitations.
However, an exception to the time limitations involved whether the diocese engaged in "fraudulent concealment" by not informing parishioners or Wisnieweski that they had numerous reports that Kownacki sexually abused children. In August 2008, the civil court jury found that the diocese did engage in fraudulent concealment.
The appellate court dissenter, Judge Stephen L. Spomer, wrote that while the "(diocese's) conduct was egregious and contributed to the harm the plaintiff suffered," his interpretation of the law indicated that Wisniewski's opportunity to sue expired years ago.
The diocese's appeal did not argue that the $5 million award was excessive, Judges Thomas M. Welch and Bruce D. Stewart noted.
During the trial, numerous allegations that Kownacki repeatedly raped a 14-year-old girl who was his housekeeper and sexually molested children he brought from a mission in Guatemala went unrefuted.
Allegations that former officials of the diocese in the 1970s and 1980s ignored evidence that Kownacki was a pedophile and reassigned him to parishes without warning parishioners also were unrefuted, the appellate court decision stated.
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at [email protected] or 239-2625.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests