St. Louis -- An Illinois man filed suit Monday alleging that disgraced Roman Catholic priest Raymond Kownacki sexually abused him as a boy and that the Belleville Diocese was partly to blame for hiding the priest's history.
The man, identified as John Doe S.W., says Kownacki, 76, who lives in a south St. Louis retirement home, is still a threat.
"This is really to protect children — my children and other children," Doe, 42, said in an interview.
Doe was described in the suit as Kownacki's longtime caretaker. His and Kownacki's families "became very close," the lawsuit says. But that relationship soured in 2009, when Kownacki gave Doe a list of names of people to contact on his behalf, including people who had sex abuse claims against Kownacki, the suit says. Doe refused, and he had "flashbacks" of his own abuse, it says.
Doe claims that Kownacki sexually abused him from 1985 to 1987 at places that included St. Mary's Catholic Church in Valmeyer, where he served as an altar boy. Doe was about 16 then. Kownacki "coerced and threatened" him to keep him from telling anyone, the suit says.
Doe argues in the lawsuit that the statute of limitations on sex abuse claims doesn't apply to his case because he "recovered the memories" of Kownacki abusing him in 2009.
In the interview, Doe said that since his relationship with Kownacki was severed, Kownacki has written letters to his children "on a regular basis," including a note that arrived last week for his 14-year-old son.
"I am trying to protect them," Doe said of his children. But he declined to talk about the content of the letters, some of which he said he hasn't opened.
Kownacki, who was ordained in 1960, has a number of abuse claims against him, including a jury verdict that rose to a $6.3 million payout in August to James Wisniewski for sexual misconduct dating to the 1970s. The Belleville Diocese has repeatedly tried to appeal the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.
At a retirement home in the 4600 block of Lansdowne Avenue, Kownacki told the Post-Dispatch in August that he did not remember the Wisniewski case. He also said he had suffered a stroke that affected his ability to communicate.
But reached again Monday, Kownacki stood in his room in a blue plaid shirt and easily answered a call to his name. Asked about the Doe case, he said, "I don't care" and, "It doesn't bother me" and refused to say anything more.
Attempts to reach the Rev. John Myler, spokesman for the Belleville Diocese, were unsuccessful Monday.
Kownacki was removed from the ministry in 1995 after abuse allegations began to surface. A former housekeeper accused him of raping, beating and performing an abortion on her in the 1970s. That case, which alleged that Kownacki was quietly shuffled among parishes, was dismissed after the state Supreme Court ruled that it exceeded the statute of limitations.
Even though Wisniewski filed his case about three decades after he was abused, the jury agreed that the diocese concealed and misrepresented facts about Kownacki, so the statute of limitations did not bar his claim. It's a detail that will likely be argued in other clergy sex abuse cases, particularly those involving Kownacki.
Another case was filed against Kownacki in 2003 by a man identified as John Doe, who as a boy mowed the parish lawn at St. Theresa's Catholic Church and School in Salem, Ill., where Kownacki was pastor from 1979 to 1986. That case was settled in 2009 for $1.2 million.
At least two more cases are pending against the diocese accusing Kownacki of sexually abusing young boys who are now grown men.
According to the Belleville Diocese website, Kownacki's status is "administrative leave/retired."