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Local News

Diocese of Joliet settles sex abuse cases for more than $4 million

JOLIET – The Diocese of Joliet has agreed to pay $4.14 million to settle sex abuse claims made by 14 men, according to the law firms representing the plaintiffs.

The incidents occurred from the 1960s through the 1980s and involved five priests.

According to the diocese, the cases were settled between July and November, although the law firms announced the settlement Wednesday.

The diocese and law firms also had different counts on the lawsuits and parties involved. A spokesman for the diocese said 15 claims were settled for $4.19 million. The cases involved six priests and one lay teacher, according to the diocese.

The settlement includes four lawsuits filed in 2013 in Will County, with one alleging the diocese was aware of sexual abuse committed by priests against seminarians at the former St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Romeoville.

The lawsuit specifically accuses then-Rev. Fred Lencyzcki of requiring a 15-year-old seminarian to undress to his underwear and put on a loincloth in imitation of Jesus Christ before fondling the boy.

Lencyzcki later served prison time for sexual abuse of children.

The incidents occurred when Bishops Romeo Blanchette and Joseph Imesch oversaw the diocese.

None of the priests involved in the settlement are active. Imesch continues to serve the diocese as bishop emeritus. Blanchette has died.

"The problem with the diocese there is that Bishop Blanchette and Bishop Imesch knew these priests were bad priests," plaintiffs' attorney Mark McKenna said. "Their attitude was not to remove the priests from children. Their attitude was to move the priests to other parishes."

McKenna said other priests involved in the cases were Lawrence Gibbs, Michael Gibbney, James Nowak and Myles White. The Will County lawsuits also name Gibbney, Nowak and White as defendants.

White, who also served prison time for sexual abuse, died in 2012.

Parishes attended by the accusers included St. Mary Nativity in Joliet, St. Dominic in Bolingbrook, St. Francis Assisi in Bolingbrook and St. Boniface in Monee.

The plaintiffs were represented by the Chicago-based firm of Hurley McKenna & Mertz and the Seattle-based firm of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala.

Hurley McKenna & Mertz successfully sued to force the Diocese of Joliet to release decades of documents in March 2013 showing what bishops knew of priests abusing minors.

The four lawsuits filed in Will County followed the release of those documents. In three of the cases, the lawsuits say the plaintiffs memories of the incidents were repressed until February or March 2013.

The cases of the 10 other men involved in the settlement were negotiated with the diocese without ever going to court in the form of a lawsuit, McKenna said.

The diocese put out a statement saying: "None of the accused perpetrators, six priests and one lay teacher, currently serve within the Diocese of Joliet. Our diocese has no active clergy member that has any pending allegations."

The statement also notes that the diocese lists the names of priests facing substantial allegations of abuse on its website, www.dioceseofjoliet.com, and said it "encourages all victims of childhood sexual abuse to come forward."

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