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  Friar Facing Charges in Canada Is at Mission
Gerald Chumik, 69, Who Is Accused of Molesting a Boy in the '70s, Lives with Santa Barbara Clerics

By Amanda Covarrubias and Steve Chawkins
Los Angeles Times
July 15, 2004

A Franciscan friar facing charges for allegedly molesting a boy in Canada has been living since 2002 at a convalescent home for clerics on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Mission.

Brother Gerald Chumik, 69, is being treated at the Franciscans' infirmary for cancer and diabetes, said Father Mel Jurisich, who heads the Franciscan order's Western U.S. region.

Prosecutors in Canada have issued a warrant for Chumik's arrest if he returns. However, they say that Canadian law prevents them from seeking his extradition.

Church critics point to Chumik's stay in Santa Barbara as an outrageous example of the church offering protection to errant priests who may still pose a threat to children.

Officials of the Franciscan order and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles counter that Chumik is strictly monitored. They said he was undergoing therapy and was being kept away from children.

"It's a very responsible action on the Franciscans' part to care for the physical and psychological needs of Brother Chumik," said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

The archdiocese has no direct authority over Chumik, who is not an employee and lives in a facility owned and run by the Franciscan order, Tamberg said.

Chumik is accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy from 1971 to 1974 in the eastern Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. He was charged with the crime of gross indecency 14 years ago, said Kathleen Healy, assistant director of public prosecutions for the province.

But extradition proceedings were never initiated because the crime was not covered in the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Canada, she said. It was unclear why gross indecency was exempt.

Although Canadian authorities contacted the Los Angeles Archdiocese, where Chumik was working when charges were filed, he was never returned to his homeland.

"We can't compel him to come back," Healy said Wednesday. "We would like to prosecute him, but it is just not feasible right now."

But that explanation did not satisfy Mary Grant, a spokeswoman for the national group SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. She said her group planned to picket the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles in the next few weeks.

"We think he needs to be sent back to Canada for prosecution," she said. "If the archdiocese and other dioceses can work together to hide him from prosecution, then they certainly can cooperate with law enforcement to get him to Canada. It's the only way to ensure the man will never harm another child."

Grant said she was skeptical about the assurances from church officials that Chumik was being closely watched.

Church officials "can't be trusted to protect kids," she said.

Chumik spends his days and nights in the 25-bed infirmary at the historic mission, set on a hilltop overlooking the ocean. He sleeps in a small room and spends much of his time alone, tending a garden and praying.

He also attends sex-offender therapy sessions once a month in Los Angeles, Franciscan officials said.

His fellow clerics mostly shun him.

"He's in hell," said Jurisich, who oversees 210 friars in six Western states. "He has shame in the religious community, where he's not one of the boys. He eats by himself. He's very quiet."

Jurisich said it was his understanding that Chumik admitted to Franciscan officials that he had sex with his accuser, but "he thought the person was of appropriate age."

Jurisich said Canadian authorities have never contacted him about Chumik and have talked only with the archdiocese. But even if they did ask him to turn in Chumik, he would decline.

"I don't see it's our responsibility to be law enforcement officers," he said. "He has a conscience, and he's going to have to answer to his God. I'm not God, but I can make sure society is safe. Some have suggested I put him in an ambulance in handcuffs and drive him to the border. That's not my job. Why is the legal burden put on us?"

Chumik moved to California in the late 1970s from western Canada, but reasons for his move are unclear. Jurisich said he heard it was because Chumik wanted to live in a warmer climate. He said Franciscan superiors in California did not know Chumik was an accused child molester when they accepted him.

Chumik, who is not an ordained priest, spent most of his years in California as a prison chaplain in Los Angeles and Fresno, where he worked from 1980 to 1985, including a stint as a mental hospital chaplain. Jurisich said Chumik never did parish work and never worked with children. After the Canadian case was filed in 1990, Chumik worked as a cook at St. Joseph's Church in Los Angeles, where he prepared meals for the priests.

A few years later, he was transferred to Three Rivers, a rural retreat in the Fresno Diocese, where he stayed until he was sent to the Santa Barbara Mission two years ago.

"We believe he poses no danger," Tamberg said. "Everyone knows where he is and who he is. The authorities know where he is."

Officials at two nearby schools were informed about the friar, as were Santa Barbara parishioners, Tamberg said.

An advisory committee -- composed of a molestation victim abused by a priest, a community member and officials from the two nearby schools -- has toured the convalescent home to make sure "he's safe, the community's safe and they're fine with the situation," Jurisich said.

Chumik and one other sex offender who remains in the order are closely supervised by fellow friars and barred from ministry, he said, but did not elaborate on the circumstances involving the other individual. The Franciscans also hired a former probation officer to monitor the men.

Father Alberic Smith, the superior at the mission, said Chumik was not allowed to leave the grounds unaccompanied or interact with parishioners or visitors. Smith said Chumik's cancer was in remission but he would remain at the infirmary the rest of his life to receive medical attention.

"He's under the equivalency of house arrest," Smith said.

 
 

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