Fugitive Friar Is Sent to Missouri
The Franciscan Order Moves the Suspect in a Canadian Molestation Case out of the Santa Barbara Mission after a Public Outcry
By William Lobdell
Los Angeles Times
September 8, 2004
A Catholic friar who fled molestation charges in Canada and found refuge at the Santa Barbara Mission was moved Tuesday to a rural church facility in Missouri, his superior said.
Father Alberic Smith, the superior at the Franciscan mission, said Brother Gerald Chumik, 69, was transferred because of pressure from victims' groups and others that began in July, when the public learned that the friar was wanted in Canada for allegedly molesting a boy three decades ago.
Chumik will live at an isolated Franciscan facility, similar to a monastery, on 280 acres with about 20 other priests and brothers, church officials said.
Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony lacks jurisdiction over the Franciscan order, to which Chumik belongs, but he could have ordered Chumik out of his archdiocese. A spokesman for Mahony said the cardinal was satisfied that the Franciscans were properly monitoring Chumik and that he was no danger to children.
Prosecutors in Canada issued a warrant for Chumik's arrest in 1990 on suspicion of molesting a boy over three years, beginning when the victim was 12. They said, however, that Canadian law prevented them from seeking his extradition from the United States, where he was living. And Chumik's superiors -- who say Chumik had admitted the alleged sexual abuse to them -- said they can't order him to return and face prosecution.
Chumik moved from Canada to California in the late 1970s. He arrived at the Santa Barbara Mission two years ago after working as a prison chaplain in Los Angeles and Fresno.
Smith, Chumik's superior, said he understood the anger of some members of the public at having a fugitive facing child molestation charges at the mission, but he thought that the Franciscans had done an excellent job of keeping Chumik "under house arrest" and away from children.
"We Franciscans need to be given credit for learning a lot about [sexual abuse] now and learning to contain these people," Smith said. "I consider [Brother Gerald] as a success story, and yet people refuse to see that. I knew that there was no danger."
Franciscan officials had repeatedly described Chumik's life at the mission as "hell." They said his health was so poor -- with cancer and advanced diabetes -- that he was housed in a 25-bed infirmary with other ailing brothers and priests.
On Tuesday, Smith said that Chumik's cancer was in remission and that the friar was allowed to take walks near two nearby private schools long after school hours. Out of concern for the public perception, that privilege was revoked once his fugitive status became known.
Smith said he told officials at the schools about Chumik's past when the friar moved to the mission. Neither of the schools felt the friar was a threat, he said.
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