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Joliet diocese documents detail sex abuse by ex-Elmhurst priests

Published: Friday, May 9, 2014 4:52 p.m. CDT

DOWNERS GROVE – Thousands of pages of documents released April 30 by a Chicago law firm detail decades of sexual abuse by DuPage County priests.

The files of 16 priests accused of abuse, long held confidential by the diocese, were obtained and released by Jeff Anderson and Associates to coincide with five new lawsuits filed by the firm against four offenders.

The priests named in the documents include several who worked in Downers Grove, Elmhurst, Lombard, Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Woodridge, Westmont, Carol Stream and Itasca, even after accusations of prior abuse.

The documents show a pattern of secrecy from Joliet diocese bishops, who regularly failed to remove or report priests accused of child sexual abuse, instead moving them to new parishes where they would often repeat the behavior.

Among the 16 priests is the Rev. Leonardo Mateo, who allegedly molested minors during his time at Immaculate Conception in Elmhurst in the 1980s. The Rev. Lawrence Mullins also allegedly touched a minor who worked in the rectory, rubbing his chest, belly and near his crotch during his time at Immaculate Conception in Elmhurst between 1983 and 1988. The Rev. Michael Gibbney also served at Immaculate Conception in 1975, but documents allege no abuse there. He did allegedly sexually abuse minors during sleepovers and camping trips while he was at Mary Queen of Heaven Parish in Elmhurst between 1977 and 1980. He also was associate pastor at Visitation Parish in Elmhurst the year before he went to Mary Queen of Heaven.

The Rev. Lawrence Gibbs, Rev. Salvatore Vincent Formusa and the Rev. Phillip Dedera also spent time in Elmhurst, but allegations against them did not occur during their time in Elmhurst.

The suits brought by the firm seek an unspecified settlement for damages suffered by victims in the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s. They also seek a court order that “[stops] practices that imperil children and requires them to come clean and publicly disclose files of all [priests accused of abuse],” Anderson said May 1.

The recently released files are a portion of 34 sought by the firm, he said.

“We’re working very hard with the survivors to reveal the past so it’s not repeated,” Anderson said. “The diocese and the bishops have a long history of concealing the past and their role in the crimes committed by the clerics.

“It’s classic tension between those who want to reveal the painful truth and those who want to hide it.”

Diocese spokesman Ed Flavin said in accordance with common business practice, the diocese does not release confidential files of employees, and the 16 files turned over to the firm were done so under court order.

“We do, however, share any and all information which is relevant to an ongoing investigation with law enforcement or as instructed to do so by the court,” Flavin said. “We make available any and all credible allegations of priests on our website.”

The priests cited in the lawsuit are the Rev. Leonardo Mateo, the Rev. Lee Ryan, the Rev. Lowell Fischer and the Rev. Frederick Lenczyzki. Mateo and Fischer are deceased, according to the firm. Ryan was temporarily removed from service in 2010 after allegations surfaced of a relationship with an underage boy in the 1970s. He was reinstated in 2012 for a short period before the diocese reversed its decision. Lenczyzki was removed from ministry in 2002 and convicted of sexual abuse in 2004.

In a statement, the Diocese of Joliet said it had not yet been served with the five lawsuits filed in Will County, and would “respond in an appropriate forum” once it reviewed the specifics of the pleadings.

“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,” the statement read. “Reports may be made to any pastor or by contacting the diocese’s Director for the Office of Child and Youth Protection at 815-221-6116.

“Dealing with the tragic history of child abuse is part of the Church’s ministry today. The people of the Diocese of Joliet pray every day for those who have been abused and for those responsible for it. They ask the Lord for healing for all His people who suffer for what has happened in their midst. With God’s help, the diocese will continue to do its best to assure the safety of its children.”

To view the documents, visit www.abusedinchicago.com.

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