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Parks v. Kownacki

August 10, 2000


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rathje

cons.-Agenda 16-January 2000.

The issue presented is whether plaintiff's second amended complaint, which contains 14 counts relating to her alleged sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest, is barred by the statute of limitations.


Summary of Proceedings Below

On February 28, 1995, plaintiffs Gina and Douglas Parks filed a complaint against defendants Reverend Raymond Kownacki, St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church (the Parish), and the Catholic Diocese of Belleville (the Diocese) in the circuit court of St. Clair County. Plaintiffs amended their complaint twice, and plaintiffs' second amended complaint (the complaint) contained 14 counts. Defendants filed motions for summary judgment (735 ILCS 5/2-1005(b) (West 1998)) and motions to dismiss (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619(a)(5) (West 1998)). The trial court denied the motions for summary judgment but dismissed the action, finding that plaintiffs' claims were barred by the statute of repose for childhood sexual abuse claims (735 ILCS 5/13-202.2 (West 1992)) and the statute of limitations for personal injury claims (735 ILCS 5/13-202 (West 1998)). The appellate court affirmed as to counts XIII and XIV of the complaint, which were loss of consortium claims made by Douglas. 305 Ill. App. 3d 449, 462. The appellate court reversed as to counts I through XI, holding that equitable estoppel precluded defendants from asserting a statute of limitations defense and that Gina was under a legal disability, and remanded the cause for further proceedings. 305 Ill. App. 3d at 462 . Defendants filed petitions for leave to appeal, which we allowed (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)). Plaintiffs do not challenge the dismissal of counts XIII and XIV. As a result, those counts are not before this court. *fn1


The following facts are alleged in the complaint, and we accept them as true for purposes of our review of the rulings on defendants' motions to dismiss. See Calloway v. Kinkelaar, 168 Ill. 2d 312, 325 (1995).

In 1970, Kownacki, an employee of the Diocese, was assigned to work as a Roman Catholic parish priest at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in St. Francisville. Plaintiff *fn2 and her family were members of that church. Kownacki employed plaintiff as a housekeeper at the St. Francis Xavier rectory. Plaintiff was 15 years old in 1970.

One day during the fall of 1970, plaintiff was at the rectory cleaning Kownacki's bedroom when Kownacki interrupted to show her a "little voodoo trick." Kownacki instructed plaintiff to chant, and he turned off the lights. He then raped plaintiff. Afterwards, Kownacki told plaintiff that he loved her and that she should trust him. He threatened that the Roman Catholic Church would excommunicate plaintiff and her family if she revealed that he had sexually assaulted her. From the time of this warning until recently, plaintiff has felt that she could not report Kownacki to anyone and that she had sinned through her relationship with Kownacki. The rape negatively affected both plaintiff's academic performance and her emotional state.

In early 1971, Kownacki told plaintiff that he was being transferred to the Parish, which is located in Washington Park. He convinced plaintiff's parents that plaintiff should accompany him to the Parish so that she could go to a school in Highland, where she would receive a "higher" education and develop her artistic talents. Kownacki also provided financial assistance to plaintiff's family. Plaintiff did not want to accompany Kownacki but did so because he had complete psychological control, domination, and authority over her. After Kownacki arranged for plaintiff to move to the Parish, he also arranged for plaintiff, who was 16, to accompany him on a trip to his ailing mother's home in Pinkneyville. There, plaintiff assisted Kownacki's mother with the cleaning. While they were there, Kownacki touched plaintiff in a sexual manner.

In the summer of 1971, plaintiff moved with Kownacki to the rectory at the Parish. The Parish is supervised by the Diocese, and Kownacki was an employee of the Parish. While there, plaintiff served as his housekeeper and his mistress. In addition, she attended St. Paul's Catholic High School. When Kownacki accepted the responsibility of plaintiff's care and education, he took on the role of her guardian, even though he was not given that title by a court. Kownacki instructed plaintiff to tell anyone who asked about their relationship that she and Kownacki were distant cousins. He also threatened to send nude photographs of plaintiff to her parents if she refused Kownacki's sexual advances or told anyone about the abuse. Moreover, after he took her to a sexually explicit movie, Kownacki forced plaintiff to perform fellatio on him. Fellatio then became his preferred method of sexual gratification. In the fall of 1972, plaintiff began having problems at school. The principal and a supervising employee of the Diocese both asked her if Kownacki was sexually abusing her. Plaintiff denied that she had been abused.

In January 1973, plaintiff had sexual intercourse with a boy whom she had been dating for over a year. When she returned to the rectory, Kownacki was in a drunken, angered state and accused her of having had sex with the boy after Kownacki had instructed her not to have sexual contact with anyone but him. Kownacki then held a gun to his head. When plaintiff said that she would no longer have sex with Kownacki, he put down the gun and held a knife to her throat. He then pointed the gun at her and forced her to drive him in the car, where he threatened to kill both her and himself. When they returned home, Kownacki raped her and told her never to see the boy again.

Plaintiff later learned that she was pregnant. Kownacki had told her that he had been given a vasectomy in Guatemala. Consequently, she believed that the boy she had dated was the one who had impregnated her. When she told the boy, the boy told her that he would marry her and take care of her and the baby. Plaintiff returned home late that day, and Kownacki "flew into a drunken rage." He beat her head against the wall and beat her with a metal chair. Plaintiff then told Kownacki that she was pregnant and that she planned to marry the boy. She swore that she would keep Kownacki's sexual abuse secret. Kownacki got angry again, and plaintiff knocked him unconscious and attempted to run away. The police returned her to Kownacki. Kownacki then gave plaintiff a quinine mixture to drink that he characterized as a potion "used in Central America to abort babies that are not wanted." After drinking the mixture, plaintiff felt tired and weak so she went to lie down. Kownacki then entered her bedroom and removed her slacks and underpants. He reached into her vagina and squeezed her uterus.

The next thing that plaintiff recalled was awakening to find herself lying in a pool of blood. She found her way back to her parents' home, where she aborted a dead fetus shortly after she arrived. In March of 1973, plaintiff was treated at a hospital where she had a dilation and curettage. She was also treated for endometriosis and toxemia. At the hospital, plaintiff was told that, had she been brought to the hospital any later, she would have died.

Plaintiff and her parents returned to the rectory at the Parish in approximately April 1973 and gathered her belongings. While they were there, Kownacki told them that no one could "touch him" and that plaintiff's story would not be believed. He warned plaintiff that she could not escape him.

Father Dean J. Braun, an employee of the Diocese, had become the new parish priest at St. Francis Xavier after Kownacki was transferred. He took plaintiff and her parents to meet with Bishop Albert Zuroweste, who was also an employee of the Diocese. Plaintiff told Zuroweste of Kownacki's abuse. Zuroweste told plaintiff that he would take care of the matter. After the meeting, Braun advised plaintiff and her family that Zuroweste would not discipline Father Kownacki and told her that she should forgive Kownacki and forget about the abuse. In fact, Zuroweste did not discipline Kownacki but instead assigned him to a new parish in Salem. Neither Zuroweste nor Braun ever contacted the criminal authorities about Kownacki's actions.

After the meeting, Braun took plaintiff to the rectory at St. Mary's Church in Mount Carmel, where he anointed her with oil and again told her to forgive and forget. Braun intended that the ceremony would cause plaintiff to forgive and forget Kownacki's abuse and prevent her from pursuing claims against Kownacki and the Diocese. Braun's actions changed plaintiff's brain functions; plaintiff felt "as though a huge burden had been removed from her shoulders."

Since the ceremony, Kownacki has intentionally intimidated plaintiff twice: by letter and through a contact by an unknown individual to plaintiff's husband. Kownacki also had bragged about having connections to organized crime. Braun advised plaintiff that the CIA was investigating Kownacki.

Because of plaintiff's fear of Kownacki, Braun's ceremony, Zuroweste's failure to discipline Kownacki, plaintiff's failure to understand that Kownacki had caused her psychological injury, the failure of Zuroweste and Braun to report Kownacki to the police, and plaintiff's repressed memory of many events, plaintiff was "psychiatrically incapable of pursuing her claims *** prior to the filing of this complaint." Plaintiff did not realize that her sexual relationship with Kownacki was sexual abuse or that she had been injured by that abuse. Both Braun's ceremony and the failure of Zuroweste to discipline Kownacki acted as a psychiatric restraint on plaintiff, and she was unable "to make any decisions, or exercise judgment, about any of the sexual and physical abuse that she suffered at the hands of Father Kownacki."

In late 1994, plaintiff learned that Marjorie Menson of Catholic Social Services was trying to contact her. When plaintiff spoke to Menson in early 1995, Menson said that she was contacting plaintiff on behalf of the Diocese. Menson asked plaintiff if Kownacki had abused plaintiff, and plaintiff answered in the affirmative. This contact caused plaintiff's memories of the abuse to resurface and led her to relive the experiences of the abuse. When plaintiff discovered that her disclosure had led to Kownacki's removal from his ministry, plaintiff feared and still fears retaliation. The psychiatric restraint created by Braun's ceremony was in place until that 1995 contact with the Diocese. Since the ceremony, plaintiff suffered from a "limited degree of mental incompetence" that "constituted a legal disability resulting in [plaintiff's] psychiatric inability to pursue a legal remedy *** until such time as it was removed when the Diocese contacted [plaintiff] in early 1995."

Plaintiff currently suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She has suffered several other injuries as a result of defendants' actions and inactions, including physical injuries relating to her forced abortion, mental distress and anguish, loss of self-esteem, and loss of enjoyment of life. Plaintiff was also unable to develop her artistic talents and has lost income and earning potential. She has suffered and continues to suffer from depression. In addition, plaintiff has suffered from various physical injuries and has suffered nightmares and lost sleep. Her companionship with her husband, parents, and siblings has also been affected negatively by defendants.

Based on these facts, plaintiff argues several theories of liability against defendants. Plaintiff advances claims against Kownacki of childhood sexual abuse, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and willful and wanton conduct. Plaintiff's claims against the Parish are breach of fiduciary duty, respondeat superior, failure to warn, negligence, negligent supervision and retention, and willful and wanton ...

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