Friday, February 25, 2011

Bishop fails to act

Thursday, Feb. 24, 201110 Comments
Bishop fails to act on latest allegations of abuse by diocesan priest, advocacy group alleges
Text Size: tool nameclose tool goes here BELLEVILLE -- Bishop Edward Braxton failed to remove a veteran priest from ministry weeks after receiving "credible evidence" that the cleric sexually molested a minor years ago, a leader of a support group for persons abused by the clergy said Thursday.

"He has known about this for weeks, if not months and has not acted," said David Clohessy, a director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests during a news conference outside the chancery office.

"It is the duty of the church to protect children of the diocese and that is not happening," he said.

Outside of the Chancery of the Belleville Diocese. Les Himstedt, a former priest in the Belleville Diocese, talks about the recent action of Bishop Edward Braxton in the case of Wisniewski vs Diocese of Belleville. - Derik Holtmann/BND

.Link: VIDEO: SNAP's comments Thursday
Clohessy would not identify the priest or the man who, he said, came forward to complain that he was molested. He said he believes the man's accusations.

Braxton could not be reached for comment. He routinely does not talk with the local media.

The 2002 "Dallas Accords," which resulted from a national conference of Catholic bishops then headed by Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory concerning sexual abuse of minors by priests, requires that all allegations of sexual abuse be investigated. The accords also require that if a diocesan review board made up of lay persons and clergy recommends it, a local bishop should remove a priest from ministry, or contact with the public.

"When a bishop knows a priest is unsafe and has abused a child, that bishop has a moral and a legal obligation to remove the priest, report him to the police, and notify the parishioners," said St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeff Anderson, whose law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates, has filed more than 1,500 priest abuse lawsuits in the United States, according to the firm's web site.

Also Thursday, a small gathering of activists, including several members of the Southern Illinois Association of Priests, asked Braxton not to block paying a $5 million award to James Wisniewski of Champaign, who won a 2008 civil jury verdict against the diocese on his claim that he was sexually molested as a teenage altar boy by the Rev. Raymond Kownacki at St. Theresa's Church in Belleville. With interest, the payment now totals about $6.2 million.

Kownacki, who now lives in Dupo, has stated he will not comment. He was removed from ministry after a diocesan review board found credible evidence that he had molested other children.

Les Himstedt, a former priest and a member of Southern Illinois Association of Priests, said the group wants Wisniewski to be paid and also supports consolidating more than a dozen Belleville Diocese priests in one location who have been removed since the mid-1990s after they were accused of molesting children.

Himstedt said the purpose of consolidation would be to make it easier to monitor priests who, according to their own church hierarchy, have abused children.

"I hope that someday, in some way, the bishop would speak for himself, Himstedt said. "The diocese has taken the lowest possible moral ground."

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