Ex-priest guilty of abuse seeks freedom

State fights bid, says he is still sexually violent

Chicago Tribune/March 5, 2009

A former Roman Catholic priest who in 2004 pleaded guilty to molesting three west suburban school boys and who last year was legally declared a sexually violent person insists he no longer needs to be confined to the state prison system for treatment.

Fred Lenczycki, 64, believes he is well enough to live with a family member in DuPage County and continue his counseling there.

But the state of Illinois disagrees.

"We must protect the young boys of DuPage County," Assistant Atty. Gen. Michael Kress said.

The two sides met in court Friday at a hearing at which Lenczycki's sex-offender treatment plan will be determined. Such hearings are required when a person is declared sexually violent.

Lenczycki is the first current or former clergy member declared sexually violent under the state's decade-old Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act. The state's definition of a sexually violent person is one who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense, exhibits a mental disorder and is likely to commit future sexually violent acts if released from custody, according to the attorney general's office. More than 200 people have been declared sexually violent persons in Illinois.

Lenczycki was assigned to St. Isaac Jogues parish in Hinsdale when he molested three boys-ages 10 to 12-from 1982 to 1984. It was two decades until criminal charges were brought against Lenczycki and he was tried.

Lenczycki was sentenced to five years in prison. After serving two and a half years, he was weeks away from being released in 2006 because of good behavior, but state and county prosecutors claimed he was a sexually violent person who needed to remain confined by the state. Two years later, a DuPage County jury unanimously agreed with that assessment.

The jury heard testimony that Lenczycki had a much worse history of abusing young boys than previously publicly disclosed. That history includes incidents of abuse at Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Naperville and St. Charles Borromeo seminary in Romeoville during the 1970s, prosecutors said. Other incidents occurred in California and Missouri, where Lenczycki was transferred after being removed from his Hinsdale assignment, prosecutors said. The jury found unanimously that he was a sexually violent person.

Since April 2006, Lenczycki was has been treated at a facility operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Human Services in Downstate Rushville.

James Montgomery, Lenczycki's attorney, said Friday in his opening remarks that "society will be protected" if his client is released.

"He has made progress in his treatment and he will be kept by state officials on a very short leash," Montgomery said. "At his age his risk of recidivism is low."

Kress argued the opposite.

"It is probable that he will commit a future act," Kress said in his opening remarks. "He hasn't progressed in treatment to a level where he could be treated in the community."

Amy Phenix, a California psychologist and witness for the state testified that Lenczycki hadn't progressed in his treatment enough to be a candidate for release from a secure setting.

Montgomery told DuPage County Judge Bonnie Wheaton that Lenczycki would reside with a member of his family in DuPage County, live off of a small church pension and Social Security, register as a child sex offender with local police, receive treatment approved by a state management team, receive periodic polygraph tests and have his location monitored by GPS.

When the hearing continues May 18, the sides are expected to offer competing mental health testimony. Wheaton was the presiding judge when Lenczycki was found last year to be sexually violent. Her options range from continuing Lenczycki's incarceration and treatment to releasing him for outside treatment.

Lenczycki was automatically and permanently removed from the priesthood when he was convicted of sexual abuse, according to the Joliet diocese. He is banned from celebrating mass and can't wear a priest's collar or call himself a priest.

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