Jailed Illinois Priest Could Be Refused Release
Law used for 1st time against a clergyman
By Charles Sheehan, Chicago Tribune staff reporter
April 10, 2006
The state will try to block the release Monday of a Roman Catholic
priest convicted of sexually abusing three boys at a Hinsdale church--the
first time Illinois authorities have tried to hold a clergyman with
a law allowing them to commit indefinitely a sex offender to a mental
treatment facility, according to the attorney general's office.
Rev. Frederick A. Lenczycki, 61, pleaded guilty in January 2004
to aggravated sexual abuse of three boys, though prosecutors said
they believe he molested three times that many children. Lenczycki
is scheduled to be paroled this week, according to the Illinois
Department of Corrections.
Under the Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act, the state can
force a sex offender to stay in a mental treatment facility if it
can prove that another sex crime is probable should the inmate be
allowed to go free.
The Illinois attorney general's office filed a petition on Friday
to put Lenczycki in the Joliet Treatment and Detention Facility,
and an assistant attorney general plans to bring the case before
a DuPage County Circuit Court judge Monday morning.
"The Sexually Violent Persons program was designed to keep
people off the street who shouldn't be there," said Melissa
Merz, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.
A very high legal bar was set for prosecutors to meet, however,
and there are relatively few sexual offenders who fall under the
auspices of the act. The state must prove there is a substantial
likelihood the offender will engage in future acts of sexual violence
if released without additional treatment.
In the seven years since the law took effect, the state has tried
to apply it in 260 cases. The law has never been applied to a clergyman,
according to the attorney general's office. The state has about
20,000 sex offenders.
130 inmates committed
Half of the 260 former inmates have been fully committed as sexually
violent persons. The other half are fighting the classification
in what can be an extremely litigious process because it is a civil,
not a criminal case. The burden of proving that a future crime is
probable falls upon the state.
Although the Sexually Violent Persons program is administered by
the attorney general, it is pursued in partnership with the prosecutor
who initially handled the case.
The prosecutor who convicted Lenczycki was DuPage County State's
Atty. Joe Birkett.
"I know how heavy the burden of proof is because I helped
write the act with [former Atty. Gen.] Jim Ryan," said Birkett,
who is also the Republican Party's candidate for lieutenant governor.
"It's not an easy task, and we have to prove it in a courtroom.
But the evidence shows he continues to be a danger to the community."
A state evaluator who specializes in sexual behavior found that
Lenczycki is a pedophile who is driven to have sex with non-consenting
males, Birkett said. The evaluator "believes Lenczycki continues
to be a sexually violent person and is recommending that he be subject
to civil commitment," Birkett said.
Attorney Vincent Cornelius, who represented Lenczycki when he pleaded
guilty in 2004, did not return calls for comment from the Tribune.
Lenczycki pleaded guilty to sexually abusing three boys, ages 10
to 12, while serving at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Hinsdale from
1982 to 1984.
Birkett clashed repeatedly with Bishop Joseph Imesch of the diocese
of Joliet, alleging that he knew Lenczycki was abusing children
and helped him to avoid prosecution.
Attorneys for the priest fought state charges of sexual abuse,
arguing the statute of limitations had expired. But a judge ruled
that the statute did not apply because prosecutors had no chance
to pursue charges against Lenczycki while he was out of state.
He spent time in a treatment center in California and was assigned
to parishes in California and Missouri through the mid-1980s and
1990s. Lenczycki was indicted in 2002 and pleaded guilty two years
The prosecution of Lenczycki led to a public disagreement between
Imesch and Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Dalton of St. Louis, who said
he was never told of allegations of sexual abuse by Lenczycki.
Imesch has come under fire again recently for not removing priests
from service despite allegations of sexual abuse.
Offender still a priest
Imesch has yet to decide to ask the Vatican if Lenczycki should
no longer be considered part of the priesthood, though he would
never be allowed to live on church property, said diocese spokesman
The diocese would be obligated to help Lenczycki but only with
minor assistance such as finding another place to live, he 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."
That would not likely include legal assistance, he said.
Fifteen states have laws for offenders similar to the Illinois
Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act. In Illinois, the Department
of Corrections evaluates inmates to whom the law may apply about
90 days before release, using psychological exams.
The vast majority of inmates who are evaluated are found to be
ineligible for commitment after their sentences end.
Those deemed eligible to be committed under the act can have an
outside psychological evaluation done before a civil trial begins,
a trial that can include a jury.
Anyone deemed to be a sexually violent person can be held indefinitely,
until a judge finds they are no longer a danger to the public, according
to the state law.
Lenczycki is scheduled to appear at 10 a.m. Monday before Circuit
Judge Edward R. Duncan in the DuPage County Courthouse.
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune