Sex abuse suit accuses Joliet Diocese of protecting priests

The Diocese of Joliet was hit with five lawsuits April 30 alleging four priests sexually abused minors decades ago and was accused of continuing a pattern of protecting priests while leaving children at risk.

The suits were announced by plaintiffs’ attorneys, who also made public thousands of pages of diocese files on 16 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. The documents suggest a pattern of diocese officials failing to notify the police or unsuspecting parishioners about the abuse.

The documents were released by the diocese in a non-cash settlement following a lawsuit brought by David Rudofski, who alleged he was abused by the Rev. James Burnett. Burnett was removed from ministry in 2006.

One of the latest lawsuits “brings a nuisance claim, and that means that that claim, which has yet to be brought in this state before, claims that the bishops for the Diocese of Joliet have in the past and to the present continue to choose to engage in making conscious choices to protect the reputation of their priests and themselves at the peril of children,” plaintiffs’ attorney Jeff Anderson said at a news conference.

Attorneys called on the diocese to release all documents on priests accused of abusing minors.

“If I can reach out and save just one child through all of this, the long road that I went through . . . every bit of that heartache, that anguish will be worth it,” Rudofski said of the document release he won.

“This diocese has now disclosed 16 of 34 files,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Marc Pearlman. “Until they disclose every single file and start firing people for covering these things up, they have no credibility.”

The priests cited in the lawsuits are the Rev. Leonardo Mateo, who is deceased; and Rev. Lee Ryan, who was removed from ministry in 2010, temporarily returned in 2012 and then removed again that year. Also cited are the Rev. Lowell Fischer, who was removed from ministry in 2002 and is deceased; and Rev. Frederick Lenczycki, who was removed from ministry in 2002 and convicted of sexual abuse in 2004. The diocese said in a statement it “has not yet been served with the five lawsuits. . . . After receiving copies of the suits and reviewing the specifics of the pleadings, diocesan officials will respond in the appropriate forum.

“Anyone who may have been sexually abused as a minor by a member of the clergy, employee or volunteer of the diocese is urged to report the abuse to civil authorities and to the diocese. . . . With God’s help, the diocese will continue to do its best to assure the safety of its children.”

But Christine McGovern, who said two of her brothers were abused by priests, said after her family came forward eight years ago, they were mistreated by the diocese.

“What my family has been through from the actions of the diocese is abuse over again [with] their attempt with their own agenda to cover up this abuse scandal,” she said at the news conference. “There’s no support system for the victims.

“There has to be accountability, and that’s why I’m here, so that victims that come forward will feel comfortable and will have a smoother and more compassionate process.”

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