Former Illinois Priest Sued Again on Sex Abuse Claims

October 6, 2011

A former Roman Catholic priest whose molestation of a former altar boy led to a $6.3 million payout in a lawsuit is being sued again, this time by a former caretaker who alleges the one-time clergyman sexually abused him as a boy.

The plaintiff, identified in the St. Clair County lawsuit filed Monday only as “John Doe S.W.” alleges Raymond Kownacki sexually abused him as an altar boy from 1985 to 1987 at such places including St. Mary’s Catholic Church southeast of St. Louis in Valmeyer, threatening him to keep the abuse a secret.

The plaintiff insists in the lawsuit that the statute of limitations on sex-abuse claims doesn’t apply to his case because he “recovered the memories” of the alleged abuse in 2009 and severed his ties with Kownacki, who he claims still regularly has written letters to his children as late as last week.

“I am trying to protect them,” the plaintiff told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday, declining to talk about the content of the letters, some he says he hasn’t opened.

When contacted in person Monday by the Post-Dispatch in a St. Louis, Mo., retirement home, Kownacki, 76, said “I don’t care” about the latest lawsuit and “It doesn’t bother me.” He refused additional comment.

A message left Tuesday with spokesman for the Diocese of Belleville, Father John Myler, was not immediately returned.

In August, a nine-year legal fight by a former altar boy who was sexually abused by Kownacki in the 1970s closed when his attorney received more than $6.3 million in checks from a southern Illinois diocese and its insurer. That payout to James Wisniewski satisfied a 2008 $5 million jury award against the Diocese of Belleville and added $1.33 million in interest that accrued as the diocese appealed the verdict it had insisted it could ill-afford.

Wisniewski sued in 2002, alleging that Kownacki sexually abused him dozens of times for five years in the 1970s at St. Theresa’s Parish in Salem, Ill., beginning when he was 13. Kownacki, Wisniewski testified, at times showed the then-altar boy a handgun, threatening to kill the child’s parents if he ever told.

The lawsuit also claimed the diocese hid Kownacki’s suspected behavior and quietly shuffled him among parishes without notifying the faithful.

Kownacki was removed from priestly duties in 1995 by a diocesan review board. He has not been charged criminally and was not part of the Wisniewski lawsuit.

Another lawsuit against Kownacki, filed in 2003 by a man identified as John Doe, alleged that victim was a boy who mowed the lawn at the Salem parish, where Kownacki was pastor from 1979 to 1986. That case was settled in 2009 for $1.2 million.

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