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$5 Million Priest-Abuse Award Upheld

MOUNT VERNON, Ill. (CN) - A state appeals court refused to overturn a $5 million jury award against the Diocese of Belleville in a sexual abuse case. In a 2-1 decision, the 5th District Appellate Court rejected the diocese's challenge to the 2008 award to a former altar boy from Champaign.

James Wisniewski claimed he was sexually abused by a priest for five years, beginning when he was 13, in the 1970s.

The diocese claimed that Wisniewski's allegations were past the statute of limitations.

Wisniewski said an exception of the statute of limitations involved the diocese's fraudulent concealment of the priest's actions.

The jurors found that the diocese had engaged in fraudulent concealment.

The two appellate judges noted that the diocese did not argue that the $5 million jury award was excessive, and that former diocese officials ignored evidence of sexual abuse by certain priests.

In dissent, Judge Stephen Spomer wrote that even though the "[diocese's] conduct was egregious and contributed to the harm the plaintiff suffered," he believed that Wisniewski's opportunity to sue expired years ago.

It is not clear whether the diocese plans to appeal.

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