Catholic Priest Suspended in Las Vegas Assault Probe

Associated Press, carried in Las Vegas Sun [Las Vegas NV]
January 28, 2007

A Catholic priest wanted for questioning in connection with the assault of a woman at a church has been suspended by the Diocese of Las Vegas.

Our Lady of Las Vegas priest George Chaanine was placed on administrative leave, meaning he cannot act in any capacity as a priest, said diocese spokeswoman Rachel Wilkinson.

Police said a church employee accused Chaanine of striking her Friday afternoon inside a building on the church's campus.

Police continued their search Sunday for the priest, but he was not found at his home or the church, said Lt. Jeff Whitehead. "He's on the lam," Whitehead said.

Chaanine owns a gun and could be armed and dangerous, police said.

"We want to talk with him, to hear his side of the story," said Ted Moody, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Department's Investigative Services Division.

Moody didn't speculate on a possible motive for the incident and said the case still was under investigation.

"There was some kind of personal contact between the two people. It's reported to be a fight," he said.

The incident began at 4:22 p.m. Friday, when police received a call about an assault or battery at the church. A woman ran out of one of the church buildings and accused Chaanine of beating her, police said.

Moody wouldn't confirm that the woman's accusations also involved allegations of sexual assault.

"We're not ruling anything out, and we're not jumping to any conclusions," he said.

Authorities took the woman to University Medical Center's trauma unit. She was treated and released Friday night.

News of the incident spread quickly among Our Lady of Las Vegas church members.

Many people expressed shock that Chaanine, whom they described as calm and gentle, would be accused of hurting anyone.

"I don't believe he would do that. He is so caring and very much with the Lord," said Nancy Lawrance, a church member who attended a late afternoon Mass, the first since the allegations surfaced.

Chaanine, whom church members called "Father George," had been at the church about a year, church members said. He was an administrator and performed services on Sundays, they said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.