Sex Abuse Charged in Shiprock
Navajo Man Files Sexual Abuse Suit against Gallup Diocese
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
November 7, 2007
St. Paul, Minn., attorney Patrick Noaker, who works for Jeff Anderson and Associates, along with Elsie Boudreau, left, and Joelle Casteix stand in front of the Diocese of Gallup on Tuesday to announce the filing of a civil suit against a former priest who is alleged to have sexually abused a teenage boy in Shiprock in 1980. [Photo by Jeff Jones/Independent]
GALLUP — A Navajo man who claims he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest more than two decades ago has filed a civil lawsuit against the Diocese of Gallup in the Navajo Nation's Shiprock District Court.
An attorney for the alleged victim, who is unnamed in the civil complaint, told reporters on Tuesday that he believes this may be the first civil clergy sexual abuse case filed in a Native American tribal court.
The lawsuit names the Rev. Charles "Chuck" Cichanowicz as a defendant along with the Diocese of Gallup. Through his attorneys, the plaintiff, who now lives in Oregon, alleges that when he was 14 and 15 years old in the mid-1980s he was sexually abused by Cichanowicz, who was then a priest at Christ the King parish in Shiprock. Prior to being assigned to Shiprock, Cichanowicz worked in St. Michaels, Ariz.
According to attorney Patrick Noaker, the first alleged incident of abuse occurred when the victim stopped by the Shiprock church to use the telephone. He was upset about his relationship with his girlfriend, and Cichanowicz allegedly offered him a beer and invited him to talk about the situation. Cichanowicz then allegedly offered the boy whiskey and sexually abused him. A second abuse incident is also alleged, but details were not provided.
The plaintiff, now in his 30s, has reportedly struggled with substance abuse problems and dealings with the criminal justice system. According to his attorneys, earlier this year the plaintiff began to make a connection between the problems in his life and the alleged incidents of sexual abuse.
The plaintiff is being represented by Noaker of St. Paul, Minn. and William R. Keeler of Gallup. Noaker is an attorney with Jeff Anderson and Associates, a law firm that is nationally known for its representation of clergy abuse victims. Keeler is a member of the Navajo Nation Bar Association.
Keeler said the attorneys made the decision to file a civil complaint rather than encourage the plaintiff to pursue criminal charges against Cichanowicz.
The attorneys held news conferences in front of the Shiprock court on Tuesday morning, in front of the Gallup Diocese's Chancery office during the noon hour, and in front of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe's offices in Albuquerque later in the afternoon. They were accompanied by two women, representatives of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, who both said they were sexually abused by Catholic priests as children. Joelle Casteix of Newport Beach, Calif., is the SNAP Southwest Regional Director, and Elsie Boudreau, a Yup'ik Eskimo from Anchorage, Alaska, is the SNAP Native American Outreach Director.
Through their news release, the group expressed the belief that "potentially abusive clergy were intentionally sent to Indian lands because church officials believed that Native American children would not report abuse." They cited the example of more than 100 abuse cases in Native Eskimo villages in Alaska.
"I think we as Native people need to come together and support each other," said Boudreau, who said Native people need to look at the historical abuse they have experienced, put a name on it, and begin to heal. She urged Native Americans to visit the Web site www.NativeAmericanAbuse.com.
Casteix encouraged all survivors of clergy abuse to also visit the SNAP Web site to learn of resources available to them.
The attorneys and SNAP representatives provided information about Cichanowicz's assignments since his ordination as a priest in 1980. From 1981 to 1983, Cichanowicz worked at the St. Michaels Mission and from 1984 to 1986 he worked at Christ the King in Shiprock. He was in Galveston, Texas in 1987 and Lafayette, Ind. from 1988 to 1991. He is reportedly not listed in the Official Catholic Directory after 1991. Noaker said he had no information that Cichanowicz has been laicized.
Cichanowicz now works as a counselor for the Alpine Clinic in Lafayette, Ind. According to clinic information posted on the Internet, Cichanowicz "specializes in working with adolescents aged 16 and up and adults, focusing primarily on chemical dependency and addiction.
He also specializes in working with clients in the criminal justice system. Other areas of interest include sexual orientation issues, mood disorders, sexual dependency issues, and behavioral problems. Christian counseling if requested."
The Independent left a message on Cichanowicz's voice mail at the clinic seeking comment. Cichanowicz, reportedly in a counseling session with a client, did not return the call.
Noaker said he had not attempted to contact Cichanowicz prior to filing the lawsuit nor did he or the alleged victim first attempt to make the Diocese of Gallup aware of the abuse allegation.
"I have no plans to do that," Noaker said of contacting the diocese. "We haven't found the processes in any of them (dioceses) to be fair."
Matt Doyle, the diocese's interim spokesman, said chancery officials learned about the lawsuit from news reporters. "We haven't received the lawsuit itself," Doyle said, adding that he couldn't comment further until lawyers for the diocese received a copy of the legal complaint.
Officials in the diocese did not participate in the news conference held on their front sidewalk.
The Rev. Larry C. Dunham, provincial of the Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Albuquerque, confirmed that Cichanowicz had been a Franciscan priest, but that he had served under the Province of St. John the Baptist of Cincinnati. Franciscan officials in Ohio could not be reached late Tuesday.
The Franciscan Province in Ohio was not named in the lawsuit. Noaker said the religious order could be added as a defendant in the future.
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