More Claims against Ex-priest

By Gallup Independent
Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
April 17, 2009

Second Navajo man comes forward with accusations of sexual abuse

WINDOW ROCK — A second Navajo man has filed a clergy sex abuse lawsuit against a former Franciscan priest who worked on the Navajo Nation in the 1980s.

Charles “Chuck” Cichanowicz was named as a defendant in the complaint that was filed in Navajo Nation Window Rock District Court on Wednesday. Attorneys Patrick Noaker, of Jeff Anderson & Associates of St. Paul, Minn., and William R. Keeler, of Keeler & Keeler of Gallup, filed the civil lawsuit on behalf of a plaintiff, identified only as John Doe CG.

The complaint alleges Cichanowicz sexually abused the plaintiff in 1980 while Cichanowicz was assigned to St. Michaels Mission in St. Michaels, Ariz. It alleges the sexual abuse began with “grooming behaviors” by Cichanowicz as a way to manipulate the 15-year-old boy. The priest eventually transported the plaintiff from the reservation in Arizona to Gallup, the suit claims, where Cichanowicz provided the boy with alcohol, took him to an adult book store, and then sexually abused him in a Gallup hotel.

John Doe CG is seeking unspecified damages, alleging sexual abuse, assault and battery, negligence, negligent supervision, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Other defendants in the case are the Diocese of Gallup, the Franciscan Friars Province of St. John the Baptist of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Franciscan Friars Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe of Albuquerque. Catholic parishes on the Navajo Nation fall under the authority of the Diocese of Gallup, but many priests working on the reservation are members of the Franciscan religious order.

This is the second priest abuse lawsuit Noaker and Keeler have filed against Cichanowicz in a Navajo Nation District Court. In November 2007, the attorneys filed a lawsuit in Shiprock, N.M., on behalf of John Doe BF, a Navajo man living in Oregon who claimed Cichanowicz sexually abused him in the mid-1980s. The plaintiff in the first case said he was 14 or 15 years old when Cichanowicz, assigned to Christ the King parish in Shiprock, provided him alcohol and sexually abused him.

When contacted on Thursday, Noaker said the second plaintiff came forward with his allegation after Cichanowicz’s current employer at the Alpine Clinic in Lafayette, Ind., offered public support for Cichanowicz, now a counselor.

Cichanowicz reportedly left the priesthood in about 1991, according to the Official Catholic Directory.

Noaker said the second plaintiff, a 44-year-old Navajo man who continues to live in the St. Michaels area, came forward in support of the first plaintiff. “He felt they were discounting the first fellow,” Noaker explained.

According to Noaker, the first lawsuit is still in the discovery phase with witnesses giving depositions. The case has proven lengthy, he said, because a lot of time was initially devoted to the question of whether tribal courts had jurisdiction over the case. Since that’s been resolved, Noaker said, he expects this second case to move faster.

Noaker was asked why he and Keeler chose to file in tribal court rather than in the federal court system. That decision was made, he said, because the first plaintiff wanted the case to remain within the Navajo Nation.

“He feels not only he was victimized, but the whole reservation was victimized,” Noaker said, adding the second plaintiff agreed with that approach.

Noaker said there are three goals with these lawsuits. The first is to make sure another child is not sexually abused, he said, the second is to determine what really happened and to hold people accountable, and the third is to get both alleged victims the help they need to recover.

On Wednesday, the Associated Press left messages seeking comment from Cichanowicz at the Alpine Clinic.

According to the AP, the clinic’s Web site said Cichanowicz works with adults and with teens age 16 and older, focusing primarily on chemical dependency and addiction but also working with sexual orientation and sexual dependency issues. However, when the Independent checked the clinic’s Web site on Thursday, Cichanowicz’s name was not listed.

Noaker said he was frustrated that Cichanowicz has apparently been allowed to continue to counsel teens 16 years and older since the first lawsuit was filed in November 2007. “I’m very concerned for the safety of the kids he has access to,” he said.

Lee Lamb, communications director for the Gallup Diocese, said he could not comment on the latest lawsuit. The diocese, which will be celebrating the ordination and installation of Bishop-elect James S. Wall on Thursday, is in the beginning stages of reviewing the personnel files of the more than 400 priests, deacons, religious, and staff members who have worked in the diocese since its founding.

This review of the files was triggered by allegations of clergy sex abuse from 1983, brought in recent weeks against the Rev. John Boland.

Reporter Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola can be contacted at (505) 863-6811 ext. 218 or


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