Man claims repressed memory in priest abuse suit against Diocese of Belleville

By Kelly Holleran | Oct 12, 2011

An Illinois man has filed suit against a former Catholic priest who has already settled numerous lawsuits for millions of dollars, alleging he was abused by the priest for two years. In addition, the man names the Diocese of Belleville as a defendant, saying it attempted to conceal the priest's previous sexual abuse of children.

The man, identified only as John Doe S.W., claims former priest Raymond Kownacki sexually abused him from 1985 until 1987 while Doe was a parishoner at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Valmeyer. At the time, Doe was 16 years old, according to the complaint filed Oct. 3 in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Before Kownacki was appointed to St. Mary's, he had served at numerous churches throughout the region, the suit states. The diocese had received reports of various instances of child abuse involving Kownacki, but continued to allow him to work around children, the complaint says. In addition, it failed to warn parishioners of the reports, Doe claims.

Because of the diocese's failure to advise people of the alleged abuse, Doe claims he and his family trusted Kownacki. Doe spent time as an altar server and participated in other church activities, according to the complaint.

"As a result of time spent in those activities and the aspirational setting for those activities, Plaintiff developed trust and confidence in priests, including defendant Kownacki, and a special relationship with Kownacki," the suit states. "That special relationship was not rooted in religious belief, but in the personal connection and confidence encouraged by Defendants with those who attended church activities."

Doe and his family remained close with Kownacki, even after the priest was removed from active ministry on Jan. 13, 1995, based on the child abuse information it had possessed for decades, the complaint says. Still, the diocese continued to conceal the abuse, instead misleading Doe and others to believe that Kownacki had retired, Doe claims.

Doe and his family cared for Kownacki after he became ill following his dismissal from the church. Doe continued the care until 2009 when Kownacki handed him a list of names to contact. Doe recognized the people on the list as those involved in lawsuits against Kownacki, according to the complaint.

After seeing the list, Doe began to recall the abuse from his boyhood. Until then, he claims the memories had been repressed.

Because he did not remember the abuse until 2009, Doe claims the statute of limitations has not expired.

Doe is not the only person to allege abuse against Kownacki. James Wisniewski received $6.3 million when a jury found in his favor for alleged abuse the priest committed in the 1970s. Kownacki also settled a suit in 2009 for $1.2 million, according to news reports. In addition, there are at least two more suits against the priest pending.

Due to his abuse, Doe claims he suffered great pain of his mind and body, shock, severe and permanent emotional distress, loss of his self-esteem, disgrace, humiliation and loss of his enjoyment of life. In addition, he suffers spiritually, has lost his religious faith and finds it difficult to practice religion through church, according to the complaint.

In his five-count complaint, Doe is seeking a judgment of more than $300,000, plus costs, attorneys' fees, interest and other relief the court deems just.

He will be represented by Jeffrey R. Anderson and Patrick W. Noaker of Jeff Anderson and Associates in St. Paul.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 11-L-560.

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