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Belleville diocese ends costly 9-year legal battle, settles with abuse victim

August 12, 2011

Finally ending a 9-year string of legal appeals, the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, has paid a financial settlement to a sex-abuse victim that was awarded by a jury in 2008.

The Belleville diocese paid $6.3 million to James Wisniewski, a victim of abuse by Father Raymond Kownacki. At trial, lawyers for Wisniewski had demonstrated the officials of the Belleville diocese were aware of Kownacki’s record of abuse and violence, yet continued to give him parish assignments.

Wasniewski originally won a settlement of $5 million from the diocese. But that figure was increased by $1.3 million in interest accrued during several the past 3 years, during a string of unsuccessful legal appeals by the diocese. In June, Belleville’s Bishop Edward Braxton announced plans to appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois to reconsider its decision on one such appeal; the court had already rejected the argument of the diocese and turned down a previous bid for reconsideration.

The protracted legal appeals led some Belleville priests to call for the resignation of Bishop Braxton, saying that his intransigence has pushed the diocese toward bankruptcy. The bishop insisted that the appeals were made on matters of principle, “in the hope of a clarification of the law and a consistency in applying the law to the Catholic Church.”


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