A civil child molestation lawsuit against a former Catholic priest who counseled Indiana teens and young adults until a year or two ago will keep moving forward because of a new court ruling this week.
The suit, one of three filed in Navajo Nation District Court in Shiprock, New Mexico, was filed in November of 2007. It says that in 1984-1985, a then 14-year-old boy was sexually molested by Fr. Charles ("Chuck") Cichanowicz. The crimes took place at in Gallup and on the Navajo Nation Reservation in St. Michaels, Arizona where the boy lived. It began with the priest "grooming" the boy through "naked sunbathing and wrestling" giving him liquor and "manipulating (him) into having sexual contact."
Until a year or two ago, Cichanowicz was a teen mental health counselor and addiction specialist at the Alpine Clinic in Lafayette, IN (AlpineClinic.com). His name was apparently taken off the clinic's website months after litigation was filed, though his employers made no announcement regarding his status.
Leaders of a support group called the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPnetwork.org) applauded the court ruling.
"We are grateful that the court has decided to give this brave victim his day in court," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP's director "It is tragic that this pedophile was able to work around Indiana kids for years, even after molesting in New Mexico. But we hope this court's ruling will help expose the truth and prevent Cichanowicz from ever committing these crimes again."
Two years ago, SNAP blasted clinic officials for refusing to suspend Cichanowicz or launching an investigation into the charges. Now, they also called on the clinic to disclose his status and whereabouts.
SNAP has also
-- prodded New Mexico Catholic officials to release information regarding Cichanowicz and
-- urged anyone who saw, suspected, or suffered clergy sexual abuse to come forward, get help, and call to law enforcement.
"It's frightening that a predator would move from one group of vulnerable kids - Native Americans in an isolated setting - to another - kids with chemical additions and other problems," said Clohessy. "We suspect Cichanowicz may have hurt kids in Indiana and, if so, we hope they'll come forward, get help, and call the police."
In 2007, SNAP leaders, along with victims' attorneys, held news conferences outside the headquarters of the Gallup Diocese and Santa Fe Archdiocese in Albuquerque. (While in Shiprock, Cichanowicz was employed by the Gallup Diocese.) Both are defendants in the lawsuits, along with a religious order called the Cincinnati-based Franciscan Friars of St. John the Baptist, which included, for a time, Cichanowicz' direct supervisors.
According to earlier news accounts, the Alpine Clinic's medical director, Dr. Nizar El-Khalili, says he has heard no complaints about Cichanowicz.