Priest Case Hit a Brick Wall
Misconduct Alleged: Powerful Attorney Stepped in — No One Would File Police Report
By Ted Slowik firstname.lastname@example.org
The Herald News
May 1, 2002
A high-profile lawyer intervened when a Joliet Diocese priest faced accusations of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.
The case then was blocked when no victim's family would file a police report.
Intervening was Aldo Botti, an Oak Brook attorney who eventually would become chairman of the DuPage County Board, according to court documents and sources close to the case. A Hinsdale priest, the Rev. Fred Lenczycki, was accused of asking boys to engage in improper behavior at St. Isaac Jogues church and school in Hinsdale.
Authorities hit a roadblock investigating the 1984 case.
"Nobody wanted to cooperate with us," said Detective Frank Homolka of the Hinsdale police.
"(Botti) was representing the diocese as I understood it," the detective said. "Maybe he knew who the victims were, but none of that information was made available to us."
Hinsdale police and the DuPage County state's attorney investigated the claims, and diocesan officials at the time referred police inquiries to Botti, whose children attended the school and who is still a parishioner at St. Isaac Jogues.
Police and prosecutors were unable to pursue charges against Lenczycki because no family would file a police report.
State law requires teachers, child-care workers and other professionals to report to authorities any allegations of sexual abuse of minors.
Botti's involvement as legal counsel — and the subsequent legal roadblock — raises questions about whether diocese officials, in their roles as teachers and administrators of a school, complied with that law, the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act of 1975.
Botti cited attorney-client privilege and declined to discuss his involvement in the Lenczcyki case.
"I can't admit or deny it," he told The Herald News.
Lenczycki moves on
After the allegations about Lenczycki were reported to the diocese, Lenczycki underwent therapy and counseling for about five years, diocesan officials have said.
By 1992, he was serving as a hospital chaplain in the St. Louis area. Officials of the St. Louis Archdiocese and at the hospitals where Lenczycki ministered have said they had no knowledge of the past claims about the priest.
But Bishop Joseph Imesch, head of the Joliet Diocese since 1979, has said he told the late Archbishop John L. May about Lenczycki's past and that he confirmed hospital authorities had been notified.
When the St. Louis Archdiocese learned of the complaints against Lenczycki in late March, it asked Imesch to recall the priest.
'Horrified' at news
Former St. Isaac Jogues parishioner Linda Pieczynski, an attorney who is village prosecutor for Hinsdale, said she was shocked to learn last week that Lenczycki was still a priest.
"I was horrified when I heard that," said Pieczynski, who also is media spokesperson for Call To Action, a Chicago-based group that advocates greater openness within the Catholic Church and increased involvement by laity.
After watching the clergy abuse scandal unfold in the Joliet Diocese, Pieczynski believes Imesch is not telling the truth.
"I say that with a heavy heart because at Call To Action we've always thought of Imesch as rather progressive," she said.
Another source close to the Lenczycki case said diocesan officials assured families of alleged victims in 1984 that Lenczycki would no longer be a priest. The diocese paid for some victims to undergo counseling at the time, said the source, who asked that his identity not be revealed.
Joliet Diocese officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
St. Louis Archdiocese officials have said there are no recent reports of inappropriate behavior by Lenczycki.
Civil case in '90s
In a 1997 civil lawsuit, Lenczycki and the Rev. Donald Kocher, then pastor of St. Isaac Jogues, were named as defendants along with Imesch.
The suit alleged that Lenczycki molested a minor in the parish rectory and that Kocher should have known about the alleged sexual misconduct. The suit was settled in 1998 for an undisclosed amount.
Documents in that suit show that the parish retained Botti to represent the church, according to a report published Tuesday.
Kocher left the priesthood in the mid-1990s after admitting he had sexual affairs with about a dozen adult women over a 20-year period. "I've always seen (the affairs) as morally wrong, and I've always tried to bring them to a conclusion as quickly as I could," Kocher testified in a deposition for another lawsuit in which he was named as a defendant.
At a hearing this morning, Will County Judge Herman Haase will consider arguments by Joliet attorney Keith Aeschliman to unseal the documents pertaining to the Lenczycki suit and other cases. Aeschliman believes the public has a right to know about depositions made by Joliet Diocese officials, amounts of settlements paid and other information.
Diocese attorney James Byrne has argued that unsealing the documents would be harmful to the reputations of individuals falsely accused, and that some depositions contain hearsay testimony.
The diocese is asking Haase to sanction Aeschliman for violating a court order by allegedly sharing information about the cases with the press.
"I take it as a desperate move by the diocese to maintain the secrecy of these files," Aeschliman said Tuesday.
Six priests associated with the Joliet Diocese have been suspended from their ministries pending further investigation into allegations of past sexual misconduct. In addition to Lenczycki, the others are the Revs. Gary Berthiaume, Phillip Dedera, Carroll Howlin, J. Anthony Meis and Anthony J. Ross.
The diocese is sharing information about priests accused of sexual abuse with prosecutors and criminal investigators in Will and DuPage counties. The diocese also has said it is considering forming an independent advisory group composed of laity, child welfare professionals and at least one survivor or parent of a survivor of child sexual abuse to review diocesan policies on sexual misconduct.
Ted Slowik can be reached at (815) 729-6053 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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