Joliet Diocese faces another sex abuse lawsuit

My Fox Chicago
September 19, 2014


JOLIET, Ill. (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

The Diocese of Joliet is facing another lawsuit claiming a now-deceased Catholic priest from a west suburban parish sexually abused three boys more than 30 years ago.

The three alleged victims were between 6 and 11 when they were abused by the Rev. Leonardo Mateo starting in about 1980, according to the suit filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court.

Mateo never faced criminal charges, and died in 2004, the Sun-Times previously reported. The Joliet Diocese deemed allegations of abuse against him credible, according to documents released in April.

The boys—two of whom are brothers—and their parents were parishioners at Immaculate Conception Parish at 134 Arthur St. in Elmhurst when Mateo started inviting the children out for ice cream and fast food, the suit said. He also would take the boys to swim at the YMCA in Elmhurst, where he allegedly molested them in the pool or locker room.

Toward the end of the summer in 1982, a sister of the brothers witnessed Mateo abusing the boys at the YMCA and told her mother, the suit claims. The parents went to Elmhurst police but didn't press charges, instead demanding Mateo leave the parish, the suits said.

The suit claims a diocesan official came to the brothers' homes to question them about the abuse and “trivialized” the claims, telling the boys that “If Father Mateo ever did it again, just tell him to grow up,” the suit said.

Soon after, Mateo was reassigned to a parish in Glen Ellyn, the suit said.

Before he was assigned to the Joliet Diocese in 1977, Mateo had been accused of sexual misconduct multiple times after being ordained in the Philippines in 1959, and again when he worked in the Los Angelese Archdiocese—allegations that the Joliet Diocese was aware of, according to the suit. He returned to the Philippines before he died in 2004.

The plaintiffs claim the diocese hid “the true nature and scope of this problem of predatory and pedophile priests” to protect priests from criminal prosecution.

The Joliet Diocese was hit with five other abuse lawsuits in April against four priests, including Mateo, the Sun-Times reported.

Cited in those suits in addition to Mateo were the Rev. Lee Ryan, who was removed from ministry in 2010, temporarily returned in 2012 and then removed again that year; the Rev. Lowell Fischer, who was removed from ministry in 2002 and is deceased; and the Rev. Frederick Lenczycki, who was removed from ministry in 2002, convicted of sexual abuse in 2004 and given a five-year prison sentence.

A representative for the Joliet Diocese could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, issued a statement about the lawsuit Friday morning.

“To local Catholics in every place Mateo worked, we plead: Ask your loved ones if they might have heard about or seen sexual misconduct by Mateo,” the statement read. “If so, urge them to call police right away. Even though Mateo is dead, it is possible his victims are still suffering in silence and self blame, and that church officials who concealed his crimes might still be prosecuted.”

The 21-count suit seeks more than $1 million in damages.


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