The diocese of Belleville recently filed a Motion for a new trial after getting hit with a $5.5 million dollar verdict in a recent sex abuse trial. Bishop Edward Braxton directed lawyers for the Diocese to file the motion. In addition, Braxton sent a letter to churches in the diocese to be read at Sunday mass. According to news reports, the letter indicated that paying the judgment would “…diminish diocesan resources and significantly limit the church’s ability to serve our people, our parishes [and]our schools…” [Of course there was no mention of a more subtle objective of the letter – generating sympathy for the church amongst the prospective juror pool in the event there is a new trial]. One online article discussed the church’s financial strain argument with Frank Flinn, adjunct professor of Religious Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Flinn, commenting on the church’s position noted, “It’s a false argument. Had they been genuinely concerned about the finances of the diocese, then the chancellor along with the bishop would have removed this person[the abuser, Rev. Raymond Kownacki] from his cycle of pedophilia in the first place.” In addition, the church’s tactics were also criticized by Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a St. Louis-based church watchdog group. Barbara Dorris, the group’s Outreach Director, noted that the Church’s latest maneuver was “Rubbing salt into fresh, deep wounds. That’s the only way to described Braxton’s selfish decision to appeal the verdict.”
At trial the diocese did not dispute that Kownacki was a serial predator; that Church officials knew about his predatory tendacies; that the Church kept his behavior secret and repeatedly moved him from parish to parish, giving him additional opportunities to molest young children.
And finally, another sad development reflecting on the behavior of the church – lawyers who represented the plaintiff in the underlying case indicated that diocese insurance policy funds may not be available to satisy any portion of the judgment. The reason? The church’s cover-up of the abuse.