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  Group Wants 2 Clergy Sent Elsewhere

By Tim O'Neil
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
September 13, 2004

A group that represents victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy is protesting the recent arrivals at a special retreat center near St. Louis of a priest who was convicted in Las Vegas and a Franciscan brother who is a fugitive from Canada.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has asked Archbishop Raymond Burke to have the two clergymen sent elsewhere. But Burke, through a statement, said he lacks the power to have them removed. The two are residents of RECON, a secluded retreat center on Vondera Road south of Robertsville in eastern Franklin County. RECON, also known as the Wounded Brothers Project, is operated by an independent Catholic board and provides lodging and supervision for clergymen who have been accused of abuse or who suffer from emotional problems. Three of its residents are listed on Franklin County's registry of convicted sexual offenders.

Its two new residents are:

* The Rev. Mark Roberts, 53, who pleaded guilty in January last year of gross lewdness and child abuse for offenses against five boys at his former parish in Henderson, Nev., a suburb of Las Vegas. One of his victims moved here two years ago to live with his father in Jefferson County. Last month, a judge in Las Vegas changed the terms of Roberts' probation and allowed him to live at RECON.

"I want him out of here," the victim, now 21, said Friday of Roberts. "I made a new home here and started all over again, and it's like he's following me. I'm sick of it."

* Brother Gerald Chumik, a Franciscan who moved to RECON last week from his order's mission in Santa Barbara, Calif., after two months of public protests there. Chumik, 69, has been a fugitive from St. John's, Newfoundland, since 1990 on charges of gross indecency with a minor. Chumik had moved to California almost a decade before the charges were filed, and Canadian authorities never have obtained an extradition order to have him returned.

RECON is one of two retreat centers near St. Louis for troubled priests that have been mentioned in news reports since the national sex abuse scandal broke in 2002. The other is the St. John Vianney Renewal Center on Eime Road near Dittmer, in Jefferson County, about six miles from RECON. Both have housed Catholic clergymen from other states through probation agreements from the judges who had convicted them.

The Vianney Center has four residents who are listed on Jefferson County's sexual-offender registry.

The Servants of the Paraclete, an order of priests who minister to other clergymen, operate the Vianney Center. RECON's director is a Franciscan priest.

David Clohessy of Maplewood, national director of SNAP, accused Burke of allowing the two centers "to import dangerous men from around the country." For more than a week, SNAP members have distributed leaflets describing the Roberts case at locations where Burke has appeared.

"Mark Roberts deserves to be in prison and, short of that, he belongs in an independently run, secure treatment center -- not a housing facility run by fellow priests," Clohessy said Friday. "As for Chumik, why won't church officials force him to return to Canada? What we hear is a bureaucratic, that's-not-my-department runaround."

The Rev. Bertin Miller, a Franciscan who runs RECON, did not return messages left with the center on Thursday and Friday.

Jim Orso, a spokesman for the St. Louis Archdiocese, said Burke lacks the authority to remove Roberts or Chumik. Orso said Burke's authority over their presence here is limited to ensuring "that they don't violate church rules, such as holding renegade Masses."

In a statement released last week, Burke said RECON has an "11-year successful history of housing priests and religious brothers who have committed sexual offenses and protecting society with the best security and safety available."

Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke said his department has had no incidents involving residents of RECON. In November, his deputies helped to serve an arrest warrant on a priest from Wisconsin who had been charged with possessing child pornography.

Toelke said RECON's directors "have always cooperated with us. Some of the residents can pretty much come and go, which surprises us, but we haven't had any trouble or complaints from people in the area. It's pretty secluded down there."

Roberts briefly lived at RECON after his conviction, but the Missouri Department of Probation and Parole forced his return to Nevada after receiving complaints from the family of the victim in Imperial. Last month, Clark County, Nev., District Judge Donald Mosley revised the priest's probation to allow Roberts to return to RECON under what Las Vegas press reports described as an "informal probation." Roberts registered with the Franklin County sheriff's office as a sex offender on Aug. 16.

Press reports quoted Mosley as saying that if Roberts were to violate the new terms, "I can extradite him immediately."

John Fougere, spokesman for the Missouri probation office, said Mosley did not alert Missouri to the new arrangements. Fougere said the Missouri office has no jurisdiction over Roberts but described his return as "a weird situation."

The Chumik case has even more twists and turns. He entered the Franciscans in his native Canada in 1955 and moved in 1981 to California, where he joined the order's province at Santa Barbara and worked as a prison chaplain in Los Angeles. In 1990, authorities in Newfoundland accused him of sexually abusing a minor during a visit to St. John's during the early 1970s.

Authorities there, citing limitations in the extradition treaty between Canada and the United States, never sought to force his return. After the Dallas Morning News reported on the Chumik case in July, Newfoundland authorities again reviewed whether they could extradite him.

Sgt. Mark Wall of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in St. John's said Friday that prosecutors came to the same conclusion.

"Extradition isn't possible under the treaty based upon a number of facts, which I can't get into because of the case," Wall said Friday. "But it's a serious case. His name is flagged at the borders, and he obviously knows this. If he crossed into Alberta tomorrow, we'd go get him."

Brother John Summers, secretary for the Franciscan province in Santa Barbara, said the order cannot force Chumik to return to Canada. Summers said the mission has been the site of several public protests since the Chumik story was reported in July.

"These angry actions posed such a potential threat to public safety and welfare that the Franciscan friars felt compelled to try to defuse them by moving Brother Gerald," the province said in a statement from Summers.

The Rev. John Doctor, head of the Franciscan province in St. Louis, said he has no authority over Chumik, who remains a member of the Santa Barbara province. But Doctor said that, as a matter of priestly counsel, "We generally encourage our guys to face up to things. The proper approach is to help people deal with the reality in their lives, not to flee that reality. We certainly are called to that level of accountability."

 
 

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