A St. Clair County, Illinois jury today handed down a multimillion dollar verdict against the Belleville Diocese for flagrant sexual abuse of a minor by Rev. Raymond Kownacki. The plaintiff, James Wisniewski, now 47, claimed that he was repeatedly abused in the 1970’s by Kownacki. For the appalling details of the abuse, please see my August 27, 2008 post The jury awarded Wisniewsk $5 Million dollars in damages. The award included $2.6 million dollars in punitive damages and $2.4 million dollars in compensatory damages.
According to an online account, the Rev. Joseph Schwagel, a former Belleville Diocese official, testified at trial that there were attempts to cover up the allegations and the victims were treated like “dirty laundry”. Sara Wiesner, a juror from O’Fallon Illinois told reporters that the actions of the Diocese were “appalling”.
Kownacki, was removed from active ministry in 1995. Shockingly, he remains a priest and receives retirement benefits.
Lawyers for the Diocese made no comment as they left the courtroom. They had argued that the statute of limitations had run on the case and it was not clear if an appeal was planned.
Several readers have emailed me commenting that my August 27 post was overly harsh, in that I condemned the entire church for the depived actions of a few. In retrospect, they are right. There are many good people in the Catholic Church doing good work throughout the world. Unfortunately, their good work gets overshadowed by the heinous acts of freaks like Kownacki. I will try for more precision in the future.