Critics Upset As Priest Nears Parole
Rev. Lenczycki: Some Say His Boss Protected Him after Abuse Allegations
By Ted Slowik
The Herald News
April 8, 2006
Dixon — A Joliet Diocese priest's release from prison after serving a sentence for sexually abusing young boys is prompting criticism that Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch gave a sexual predator continued access to children.
The Rev. Fred Lenczycki, 61, pleaded guilty in January 2004 to criminal sexual abuse of three boys under age 13 and was sentenced to five years in prison. He is scheduled to be paroled Tuesday from the Dixon Correctional Center, a medium-security facility in northwest Illinois.
Lenczycki was convicted of molesting altar boys at St. Isaac Jogues parish in Hinsdale in 1984. When reports of misconduct surfaced, Imesch sent Lenczycki for counseling, then reassigned him to ministries in Missouri and California. Allegations continued. At St. Peter's Parish in Pacifica, Calif., prosecutors in 2002 investigated allegations that Lenczycki molested other boys.
"The church's own conduct in removing the defendant and placing him out of state gave us the ability to charge the defendant because the defendant was not an Illinois resident, and therefore, the otherwise three-year statute of limitations did not run," DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett said at the time of Lenczycki's sentencing.
Prosecutors learned that Lenczycki continued to molest boys in California until at least 1991, Birkett said.
Lenczycki's conviction prompted legislation that changed Illinois law and required clergy to become mandatory reporters and contact civil authorities whenever sexual abuse of a minor is suspected.
Lenczycki will have to register as a sex offender and will be on conditional parole for four years, said a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections.
One of the boys Lenczycki molested sued the Catholic priest and the diocese in 1997, saying the cleric abused at least nine altar boys. Imesch did not remove Lenczycki from his post as a hospital chaplain until 2002. Another victim filed suit in 2004 and is represented by Minneapolis attorney Jeff Anderson, who called Lenczycki a serial predator who should be locked up for life.
"I'm concerned about his risk to others," Anderson said. "He's a victim of the clerical culture that protected him for so many years."
Lenczycki would not have abused some of the boys if Imesch had promptly told civil authorities about the cleric's escapades with young children, the attorney said.
"While Lenczycki is on his way out of prison, Imesch should be on his way in," Anderson said.
Although at least 30 priests associated with the diocese have been subjects of credible allegations that they sexually abused minors, Lenczycki is one of only six to be criminally convicted. The others are Gary Berthiaume, Henry Slade, John Slown, Ed Stefanich and Myles White.
Except for Berthiaume, the others convicted were permanently removed from the priesthood, or "laicized." Birkett said he hoped the diocese would petition the Vatican to defrock Lenczycki.
"It is my hope that prompt action will be taken by them to formally remove the defendant from any form of ministry as a Catholic priest," the state's attorney said. "It is clear that during the history of this abuse, the Joliet Diocese placed a priority on protecting their own instead of the children."
But a diocesan spokesman said Imesch hasn't decided yet whether to ask the Vatican to remove Lenczycki from the priesthood. Also, the diocese will financially support the priest once he is released from prison, spokesman Tom Kerber said.
"According to canon law ... it is the responsibility of the bishop to provide for the support of a priest who is no longer able to be in active ministry," Kerber said. "Consequently, there must be some financial support given to Fred Lenczycki by the diocese until such time as he is able to provide for himself."
- Contact Ted Slowik at (815) 729-6053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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