Where will Father Fred go when he gets out of prison?

Published7/13/2009 12:02 AM

The acronym "NIMBY" (Not in My Back Yard) has become the catchall defense against new airports, homeless shelters, massage parlors, strip clubs, nuclear waste dumps and released criminals of all kinds.

My backyard, wherever it happens to be, is an especially unpopular place when it comes to fresh living arrangements for child sex offenders. This is especially true when it comes to sex offenders who happen to have been men-of-the-cloth in their pre-con lives.


Consider the case of Roman Catholic priest Fred Lenczycki, who molested 31 boys in Illinois, Missouri and California. Many of them were altar servers.

Father Fred's foul play began in 1972 and he had quite a patter. He liked to give and get massages from the boys. Naked. And he used to have them dress up in scanty baby Jesus get-ups. Sometimes he'd tell the youngsters that it was all part of a research project.

This didn't happen in some backwoods' parishes either. It was in Naperville, Romeoville and in Hinsdale, where at least 14 boys were molested.

Now a judge in DuPage County, where Lenczycki learned the ropes, has decided that he's cured enough to be freed, after serving half of a five-year prison term and a couple of years in a secured state treatment facility for dangerous sex offenders.

DuPage Judge Bonnie Wheaton made that call and Father Fred could be out by fall. Of course, those who Fred victimized while they were too young and too terrified to object were horrified at the prospect.

You'd expect that.

There is, however, the NIMBY issue.

If the judge approves Lenczycki's plan to live with a sister in Wheaton, how do you think that will go over with neighbors?

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Will they be OK with a "cured-enough" child molester living in their back yard?

"I want to assure the community his movements, his actions, every aspect of his life and his behavior will be regulated to the fullest extent while he's on conditional release," the judge said. "Mr. Lenczycki is not going to be released into the community to hang around a school or alleyway."

Exactly how will that be done? Will the sheriff's department have somebody outside his house all day and especially all night?

Why would we pay any bill for a social experiment involving a pedophile priest?

And what about the notion that this kind of thing is not curable?

I do have one option that would serve both justice and the concerns of neighbors.

There is a little house in the woods along the river in New Lenox. It is a nice, quiet, out-of-the-way place where only one man currently lives.

The resident of that house is an old friend of Father Fred's. They go way back, to the time when Fred was first inviting altar boys into his room at the rectory.


His name is Joe Imesch and he was Bishop of Joliet Diocese when Fred was first reported by one of the Hinsdale boys.

Imesch, who ran the stepsister-diocese of Chicago for 27 years, responded to the Father Fred situation by the Catholic playbook that was in use at the time: He transferred him to Missouri and hoped for the best.

The authorities were not notified.

As you might expect, Lenczycki's sins didn't stop when the moving van pulled away.

He molested boys in Missouri and in California where he went after that.

In other words, Bishop Imesch could have stopped the bleeding by dealing with Lenczycki in 1985 and reporting the assaults to police. But he didn't.

During his tenure, the brusque bishop followed the same course with other priests accused of molesting boys in the Joliet Diocese. Imesch transferred at least four accused priests to other churches inside his diocese without alerting parishioners.

Although Imesch retired three years ago as Bishop of the Diocese, he is still shown on the diocesan Web site as being second in command.

"He currently holds no administrative position in the diocese," said spokesman Doug Delaney.

That is odd because the Web site listing also shows Imesch having an administrative assistant and he is pictured taking part in ordination rites a few weeks ago.

Further, Imesch's Diocesan bio states that he "currently serves on the board for Catholic Relief Services. He is also a member of the committee for Stewardship; is a member of the National Council of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Pastoral Practices; is a member of the board of trustees of Archdiocese of Chicago Seminaries and is a member of the retired religious grant review board..." etc.

Considering the obvious continued relationship between Bishop Imesch and the Diocese of Joliet, I asked Delaney to find out whether Imesch has offered to take in Fred Lenczycki at his house in the woods?

When I didn't hear back, I left a message for Imesch at the house in the woods, but he didn't call me either.

In old age though, Bishop Joe and Father Fred could probably use some company.

It might be good for them to become roommates.

Sitting around the fire one night, they could both ask each other:

"Why did you do it?"

• Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by e-mail at chuckgoudie@gmail.com and followed at twitter.com/ChuckGoudie

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