The Catholic Church Takes A Right Hook
John J. Dunphy
This piece appeared in the Secular Humanist Bulletin in its 24:4 issue (Winter 2008–2009). Yes, that was quite a while back, but the issue is still relevant. How could the church have sheltered these disgusting pedophiles? How could it have placed the welfare of these predators before the welfare of children?
The good news is that a judge had ordered the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, to pay $5 million dollars to a former altar who was molested decades ago. The even better news is that the same lawyers who won this judgment are also representing yet another man who, as an altar boy, was molested by the same priest.
Documents presented in court and reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch proved that the Belleville Diocese knew the reverend Raymond Kownacki was a serial molester of boys and girls dating back to the 1960s. One diocesan report called Kownacki “sick” and warned that, if he were moved to a certain place, “it could be dangerous.” Still, the Belleville Diocese persisted in shuffling Kownacki from parish to parish, despite overwhelming evidence that he consistently preyed on children.
In one parish, Kownacki raped a sixteen-year-old girl. He wrote her love letters that found their way into diocesan records and were displayed before the jury during his trial. When the girl became pregnant, Kownacki — who presumably shares his church’s opposition to abortion — tried to cover his tracks by squeezing the girl’s uterus in an attempt to foece out the fetus. According to the court documents, the Belleville Diocese advised the girl’s father to complain directly to Kownacki. The priest literally laughed in the father’s face.
The diocese sent Kownacki away for alcohol-abuse treatment. In a memo, then-Bishop Albert Zuroweste wrote that he had confidence in Kownacki’s “knowledge, piety, prudence, experience and general character.” Kownacki was then assigned to a parish in Salem, Illinois, where he molested an altar boy.
While this predator was still at the Salem parish another family complained to the diocese about abuse. Kownacki’s crimes were again swept under the ecclesiastical rug. The boy’s family was admonished by church officials to remain silent and, in presumed deference to church authority, complied. “We have done as you asked and not said anything to anybody,” this family stated in a letter to the Belleville Diocese. The Reverend Joseph Schwaegel, a former vice-chancellor in the Belleville Diocese, responded by stating that he had given Kownacki “the benefit of a doubt,” and the family should let “bygones be bygones.”
Schwaegel conceded in testimony at the trial that he and his fellow clerics deliberately covered for Kownacki. “Like any family, you don’t go hanging your dirty laundry all over the line,” he stated in court. Schwaegel’s apparent sympathy for Kownacki might be explained by his own sexual record. He testified that he had himself removed from active ministry in 1994 for a self-professed sex addiction. Unlike Kownacki, however, Schwaegel limited his exploits to adults.
Kownacki was transferred to a parish in Harrisburg, Illinois, where he sometimes had as many as six boys staying overnight at the rectory. He also hosted underage overnight guests while at a parish in Valmeyer. When a housekeeper found pornography as well as a letter form Kownacki to one of these boys in which the priest asked for a late-night massage, she wrote to the Reverend James Margason, a former Belleville Diocese Vicar General.
According to handwritten notes introduced during the trial, Margason tried to explain away Kownacki’s crimes with aphorisms like, “What happened in the past is the past” and “This is a new beginning.” Margason also wrote that he discouraged parishioners from repeating the allegations against Kownacki.
The Belleville Diocese in 1988 put Kownacki in a ministry that didn’t involve children or adults, although it allowed him to live at St. Henry’s Parish in Belleville. His residence was next door to St. Henry’s Grade School and Altoff Catholic High School. An attorney for the former altar boy asked Schwaegel, “You put him right in the heart of kids?” Schwaegel replied, “Yes.”
Kownacki was finally removed from active ministry in 1995 but never defrocked. He receives retirement benefits and lives in an apartment just two blocks from a high school in Dupo, Illinois.
When the verdict was handed down, one of the attorneys who represented the former altar boy remarked, “I asked jurors to punch the Belleville Diocese with a right hook. They delivered.” I believe the entire Catholic Church in the United States deserves a right hook, especially in light of its cover-up of the Doyle Report.
The Reverend Tom Doyle, a Dominican priest and canon lawyer for the papal nuncio in the United States, wrote a report in 1985 that warned the Catholic Church about its growing number of pedophile priests. A lawyer for some of the thirty-seven young boys who had been molested by a priest in Louisiana told Doyle that there were many American priests like the one who had harmed his clients. When Doyle told the papal nuncio about his conversation with the attorney, the nuncio ordered Doyle to investigate.
And investigate he did. Doyle’s report contained startling information about a clergy for whom celibacy was a joke and underage boys were sex toys. The bishops, according to one source, “ran from Doyle’s report as though it had fangs.” He was todl to drop the subject and ignore the report that he had so painstakingly put together. When he didn’t, Doyle was fired by the nuncio.
Doyle joined the U.S. Air Force in 1986 as a chaplain. He began appearing as an expert witness in sex-abuse cases, sharing his witness fees with the victims. When the extent of sexual abuse by Catholic priests finally came to light nationally in 2002, Doyle’s long-buried report surfaced to substantiate accusations that the hierarchy had known about its degenerate priests. The bishops took vengeance on Doyle by having him fired as an Air force chaplain.
In a conversation a few years ago with Kevin Horrigan, deputy editorial page editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Doyle postulated that the hierarchy really has no idea of the harm inflicted by pedophile priests since “they’re so far removed from family life.” The Catholic Church “won’t talk about this bizarre formation program [seminaries] that send out these sexually and emotionally immature men as priests.” Doyle also observed that the church “is afraid to look at celibacy, so they shift the blame to other reasons.” He dismissed then-Pope John Paul II’s blaming of American culture for priests who pray on children. “That’s insane,” he said.
Horrigan noted that, when he writes about pedophile priests, he receives angry letters from readers saying that he’s a Catholic-basher and will go to hell. Doyle remarked that Catholicism represents security for such people and that criticism of the church comprises an attack on that security. “Catholics have to learn to think and act like adults,” Doyle said.
It’s difficult to understand why someone would choose to remain in a denomination with such a record of coddling criminals. We can only hope that attorneys for abuse victims continue to deliver an unrelenting volley of right hooks, left jabs and uppercuts until the Catholic Church goes down for the count.
John J. Dunphy is the author of Abolitionism and the Civil War in Southwestern Illinois and Unsung Heroes of the Dachau Trials.