Fugitive Friar Finds Refuge from Canadian Legal Authorities in California
July 12, 2004
DALLAS (AP) - A Franciscan friar who is an accused child molester is being housed by the Catholic order in California, even though officials know he is a fugitive from Canadian justice.
Gerald Chumik is one of about 200 Catholic priests, brothers and other religious workers who have escaped sexual abuse accusations by moving abroad, according to an investigation by the Dallas Morning News. About 30 face current charges or investigations, and many remain free with their superiors' blessings.
Church and state officials are aware that Chumik is living in a religious complex overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, Calif.. But no one seems willing to order him to go back to Canada and face justice, the newspaper reported in Monday's edition.
"We can't ask anybody to do anything they don't want to do," Rev. Mel Jurisich, head of the Franciscan order's Western U.S. region, is quoted by the newspaper as saying. "The only way we could force his hand is to dismiss him."
Chumik is accused of enticing a boy at ages 12 and 15 to perform oral sex during the 1970s.
Police in St. John's, Nfld., say they began asking church leaders to hand over Chumik shortly after he was charged 14 years ago.
Franciscan leaders contend Canadian authorities have never asked them to return Chumik.
Chumik, 69, who is retired, declined to discuss his past with the newspaper.
The friar suffers from diabetes and is largely confined to the Franciscans' infirmary, said Rev. Tom West, Jurisich's top aide at the Franciscans' regional headquarters in Oakland, Calif..
He spends much of his time tending to plants and has been in sex-offender therapy for many years.
The Franciscans say they feel obligated to Chumik and want to keep him with them to care for his health problems and protect children.
An ex-probation officer is paid to keep tabs on alleged sex offenders who have remained in the order. He said he regularly checks on Chumik by phone but doesn't conduct surveillance or make unannounced visits.
The ex-officer, Gary Dunn, said he knows Chumik is a fugitive from Canadian authorities but doesn't believe he is dangerous.
Chumik is the only fugitive the California Franciscans are housing, Jurisich said.
The Franciscans say Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles hasn't objected to their arrangement concerning Chumik because they have assured him over the years that the friar is watched closely.
Mahony "is understanding about this," said West. "He said, 'Just keep me informed, please,' and that's what we do."
The cardinal's spokesman, Tom Tamberg, said, however, that the archdiocese has no information about Chumik.
Tamberg did not answer follow-up questions from the newspaper and said the cardinal wasn't conducting interviews because of pending lawsuits alleging cover-ups of abuse.
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