Former Lafayette priest accused of molestation continues counseling

Therapist Charles Cichanowicz of West Lafayette will keep his job at the Alpine Counseling Center in Lafayette although he is being sued in a civil court for alleged child molestation.

A lawsuit filed in New Mexico accuses him of sexually abusing a teenage Navajo boy in the mid-1980s while a Roman Catholic priest with a New Mexico parish.

Dr. Nizar El-Khalili, the medical director at Alpine Clinic, supports Cichanowicz, who he said has worked there five years. The Alpine Counseling Center is part of Alpine Clinic.

“We will stand by him. Everybody is innocent until proven guilty,” El-Khalili said Friday.

“We have not had a single complaint from anybody. He has been an outstanding therapist, or counselor, treating primarily adults at our facility.”

Cichanowicz was accused in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Shiprock, N.M., of giving alcohol to and sexually abusing the teenager in 1984 and 1985 at Christ the King parish. The Diocese of Gallup, N.M., also is named in the lawsuit.

The plaintiff, who is not named in the lawsuit, is now 38 and lives in Oregon.

Because of pending litigation, Cichanowicz said he had no comment when reached Thursday.

As a Franciscan priest, he served from 1987 to 1990 at St. Boniface Church and from 1990 to 1991 at St. Lawrence Church.

According to a March 3, 1991, article in The Sunday Visitor, a Catholic newspaper, the Franciscan friars were preparing to leave Lafayette that summer after 125 years of local service. Cichanowicz was not mentioned in the article’s list of Franciscan priests and brothers.

That also was the same year Cichanowicz left the Franciscan order, according to Brother Gene Mayer, secretary of St. John the Baptist Province in Cincinnati.

“He left the order in 1991 and received his official papers from Rome to officially be laicized in 1994,” Mayer said Friday.

In layman’s terms, Cichanowicz was relieved of his obligations as a priest and returned to the status of a layperson. Some denominations call it “defrocking.”

Bishop William Higi has led the Lafayette Diocese since June 6, 1984. Spokeswoman Laurie Cullen said the following on Friday: “Records from this office do not show any concerns of a similar nature involving this priest (Cichanowicz).”