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  Priest Goes to Prison for Abuse

By Christy Gutowski
Daily Herald [Chicago ILL]
January 13, 2004

The Rev. Fred Lenczycki stood alone Monday in a DuPage County courtroom as he was sentenced to five years in prison for molesting three altar boys decades ago.

But prosecutors argued the Joliet Diocese and its leader Bishop Joseph Imesch also share responsibility for shielding Lenczycki in a cloak of secrecy and creating an atmosphere that allowed future crimes to occur.

Lenczycki pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual abuse. He faced either probation or up to seven years behind bars for molesting the boys in 1984 while a priest at St. Isaac Jogues Catholic Church in Hinsdale.

The 59-year-old Glen Ellyn man is the only priest prosecutors charged after the diocese opened in 2002 its long-secret internal records of priest misconduct.

The records, which DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett convened a grand jury to obtain, included allegations against 29 priests. In most cases, the statute of limitations had expired. Other complaints were unfounded. Six of the priests had died.

Though the claims date back 20 years, prosecutors still charged Lenczycki because the diocese had transferred him out of Illinois in 1985 after a parent's allegation of improper conduct by the priest. Prosecutors argued the statute of limitations clock had stopped then.

In all, Birkett said, Lenczycki had admitted to diocese leaders he had inappropriate contact with more than a dozen teenage boys at the Hinsdale church.

Instead of notifying authorities, the diocese under Imesch's leadership hired a private attorney to discourage parents from suing or alerting police, Birkett said. He added Imesch and Lenczycki had "a close relationship."

"It is clear that during the history of this abuse, the diocese placed a priority on protecting their own instead of children," said Birkett, himself a devout Catholic.

"The church's own conduct in moving him (Lenczycki) around runs contrary to every moral principle we learned in Catholic school - to run and hide as opposed to standing up and admitting."

Defense attorney Vincent Cornelius said Lenczycki is remorseful, which led to his decision to plead guilty Monday.

"It was very important to him that there be closure for the victims and that they not be subject to a trial," he said.

John Cullen, a diocese spokesman, said decisions were made based on the limited information church leaders had at the time. Furthermore, he contends diocese officials did notify authorities.

"Of course we're horrified anything like this could happen, and we're doing everything we can to change the future," Cullen said.

Lenczycki was transferred to Missouri for treatment in 1984. He later ministered at three churches in California before returning to Missouri. His last assignment was as a hospital chaplain at DePaul Health Center in Bridgeton, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, for 10 years. He left in April 2002, after the Illinois accusations were disclosed, and was placed on administrative leave.

The priest also was charged with sexually abusing nine altar boys in Hinsdale in a 1997 civil lawsuit. The case settled a year later, and the terms were not made public.

Last month, another former St. Isaac Jogues teen filed suit against Lenczycki and the diocese, alleging the priest molested him in the early 1980s.

Birkett said he's forwarding court records of Lenczycki's conduct to the Vatican in hopes of getting him formally removed. Lenczycki also must register as a sex offender upon his release from prison.

One of the priest's victims, now grown, attended the court hearing Monday.

"I will never live a day, week, month or year without recalling the events of such a sick individual," the man said in a statement. "The defendant's ultimate fate lies in the hands of God."

Lenczycki bowed his head and quietly listened to the man's words before being led off to jail.

Abuse: Prosecutor sending court records to Vatican

 
 

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