Ex-Dupage Priest Faces Trial over Release from Custody
Sentenced for Sex Abuse, Parolee Still Incarcerated
By Art Barnum
March 9, 2008
Jury selection begins Monday in the DuPage County civil case of a priest who has been paroled after serving time for sexually abusing Hinsdale Catholic school boys in the 1980s but whom authorities are seeking to keep imprisoned because they contend he remains a threat.
Rev. Fred Lenczycki, 62, is the first member of the clergy in the state to face incarceration under the Illinois Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act. The law, which took effect in 1998, allows prosecutors to seek continued civil commitment of sex offenders they believe will re-offend because of a mental disorder.
However, a high legal bar is set for prosecutors to meet, and relatively few sexual offenders have been fully committed under the act.
Lenczycki, a priest in the Joliet diocese, was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to 5 years after pleading guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse of three boys. In April 2006, a month before Lenczycki was to be released on good behavior, Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan and DuPage County State's Atty. Joseph Birkett invoked the commitment act.
Since then, the priest, who was paroled after serving about 2 1/2 years in Dixon, has been housed in a joint Department of Corrections and Department of Human Services facility there.
On Monday, Judge Bonnie Wheaton will preside over the start of the selection of 12 jurors who will hear evidence and decide if Lenczycki should remain incarcerated. The main evidence and testimony in the trial, expected to last a week, will come from health experts who have interviewed Lenczycki and studied his mental state.
The state's witnesses, when questioned by assistant attorneys general, are expected to say he remains a danger and threat to society, and that there is a substantial likelihood he will engage in future improper sexual acts. The burden of proof is with the state.
Lenczycki's defense, led by James D. Montgomery, former Chicago corporate counsel under then-Mayor Harold Washington, is expected to argue that with regular counseling and continued treatment, he is not a threat to anyone. Opponents of the state law argue that the act is a form of double jeopardy, that the defendant has served the prison sentence and that the criminal judge who presided over the case has already issued a just punishment.
If Lenczycki is confined to a state facility, Judge Wheaton would get periodic updates on his condition and could possibly review the incarceration decision in the future.
Lenczycki was assigned to nine parishes before being sent to prison. The specific charges on which he was convicted stem from his abuse of three students, ages 10 to 12, at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Hinsdale from 1982 to 1984. He would call the young boys to his office, make them wear a provocative costume and abuse them.
Lenczycki spent time in treatment in the 1980s and was then assigned to parishes in California and Missouri through the 1990s.
Court records indicate that prosecutors believe he may have abused many more children, including one who eventually entered the priesthood. He reported allegations of sexual abuse after the criminal charges against Lenczycki were made public.
Bishop Joseph Imesch, then-head of the Joliet diocese, was criticized for failing to safeguard children while protecting Lenczycki. Members of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests said they are considering holding public demonstrations at the DuPage Courthouse in Wheaton. The group plans to have observers at the hearings.
Douglas Delaney, a spokesman for Bishop J. Peter Sartain, current head of the Joliet diocese, said Friday that the diocese "is confident that Fred Lenczycki will receive a fair hearing, and the judicial result will be in the best interest of everyone."
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