Third priest sex abuse lawsuit filed

© Gallup Independent
Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola, Staff writer

WINDOW ROCK – A third priest abuse lawsuit has been filed in the Navajo Nation court system against Charles “Chuck” Cichanowicz, a former Franciscan priest who once served at Catholic parishes in St. Michaels and Shiprock.

The complaint was filed in Window Rock District Court on Monday on behalf of a 45-year-old Navajo man, said Patrick Noaker, an attorney with Jeff Anderson & Associates of St. Paul, Minn. Noaker and Gallup attorney William R. Keeler have filed two previous civil complaints naming Cichanowicz as a defendant, along with the Diocese of Gallup, the Franciscan Friars Province of St. John the Baptist, and the Franciscan Friars Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The first complaint was filed in November 2007, and the second was filed in April of this year. All three alleged victims are Navajo men in their 30s or 40s who claim Cichanowicz abused them during their teen years. The legal complaints can be read online on the law firm’s Web site.

According to the complaint, “The beginning of the sexual abuse took the form of grooming behaviors by Defendant Priest in order to manipulate Plaintiff into having sexual contact such as naked sunbathing and wrestling.” The lawsuit alleges these grooming behaviors resulted in Cichanowicz transporting the boy from St. Michaels on the Navajo Nation to Gallup, where he allegedly provided the boy with alcohol and sexually abused him.

Noaker said Cichanowicz’s alleged grooming behaviors as outlined in this complaint show the “same M.O.” as outlined in the April 2009 complaint. That lawsuit also involved a teen from the St. Michaels area who was allegedly transported to Gallup, where he was given alcohol and sexually abused.

This third lawsuit was in the process of being prepared, Noaker said, before the second lawsuit was filed.

This third alleged victim has said Cichanowicz stayed in contact with him after the priest was transferred to Shiprock, Noaker said. “Unfortunately,” he said, “this is consistent with a serial perpetrator.”

The alleged victim has since struggled with substance abuse problems, Noaker added, and is currently incarcerated in New Mexico.

On Monday, the Independent attempted to contact Cichanowicz at his most recent employer, the Alpine Clinic in Lafayette, Ind. According to the clinic’s medical director, Dr. Nizar El-Khalili, Cichanowicz is no longer employed at the clinic after voluntarily leaving his position recently. El-Khalili said the clinic had “no issues” with Cichanowicz during his years of employment and said he didn’t know where Cichanowicz was working now.

“Well, he was just a wonderful counselor, and he did a great job, and we never had any complaints against him,” he added.

Contacted on Tuesday, Lee Lamb, the communications director for the Diocese of Gallup, said he was not aware of this third lawsuit. Lamb added he was not able to comment on pending litigation.