In the Diocese of Belleville, Father Raymond Kownacki was transferred between dioceses after he was accused of sexually abusing minors and forcing a girl to have an abortion.
The girl, named Gina, met the priest when she was 16 years old and alleges that he raped her and then convinced her parents to let her live with him as a housekeeper. During this time, the report states she became pregnant and he forced her to have an abortion against her wishes. The report also says he admitted to her that he abused other minors.
The report notes that Gina informed Bishop Albert Zuroweste of the abuse in 1973 but that the bishop transferred Kownacki to another parish in April of the same year. The bishop praised the priest’s “knowledge, piety, prudence, experience, and general character” while recommending him for the transfer.
After Kownacki faced credible accusations at his new parish, the newly ordained Bishop John Wurm transferred him to yet another parish, where he was accused of abusing more children.
In August 1984, Kownacki was placed on sick leave after facing allegations of sexually abusing minors. Less than a year later, the newly ordained Bishop James Keleher transferred him to a new parish where he was again accused of sexually abusing minors. This was the third bishop to transfer him after sexual abuse allegations. He was eventually removed from ministry in 1995 under Bishop Wilton Gregory’s leadership but was never convicted of any crimes.
Eight parish assignments in 15 years
Another example in the Diocese of Springfield shows that one priest, Father Walter Weerts, had eight parish assignments in fewer than 15 years under the leadership of Bishop William O’Connor.
In 1962, during his second assignment, the parents of a young boy alleged the priest had wrestled with their son nude. Eight other families made similar allegations about the priest’s interactions with their children by the end of the following week. The bishop did not take any action and the priest allegedly abused at least 22 boys.
Chicago’s ‘treat and return to ministry’ policy
The report also scrutinized the Archdiocese of Chicago’s official policy on handling these cases from 1960 until 1992. The policy, known as the therapeutic model, required priests to undergo psychiatric evaluation and treatment if necessary. Then, it would return them to ministry if the diocese believed they had been properly treated.
According to the report, at least 32 priests were accused of sexually abusing children during this period. Despite the treatment efforts, at least 19 of them were accused of sexually abusing more children afterward. This is a recidivism rate of nearly 60%.
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These are only a few of the many accounts provided in the report.
‘All too common’
Melanie Sakoda, survivor support coordinator at Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) told CNA that the abuse and cover-ups described in the report are “all too familiar” and “all too common.”
“They’re going all around to different parts of the country,” Sakoda said. “That’s what’s disturbing.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops unanimously approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, which adopted a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse and ordered systematic changes.
Dioceses named in the attorney general’s report released statements to express sadness, apologize for past actions, and highlight reforms that have taken place in recent years.