In California, fugitive friar finds a haven

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  Franciscans unwilling to turn in Canadian facing ’70s abuse counts

TXCN.com (Texas cable network) 

03:40 PM CST on Wednesday, February 1, 2006  

By BROOKS EGERTON and REESE DUNKLIN / The Dallas Morning News

Franciscan friar Gerald Chumik is an admitted child molester. He has been a fugitive from his native Canada for 14 years. Church and state alike know where he is: living in a picturesque religious complex overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, Calif.

But nobody, it seems, has been willing to order him to go home and face justice.

 “We can’t ask anybody to do anything they don’t want to do,” explained the Rev. Mel Jurisich, head of the Franciscan order’s Western U.S. region. “The only way we could force his hand is to dismiss him.”

And the Franciscans – the world’s second-largest Catholic order – don’t want to do that. They have a familial obligation to Brother Chumik, they say, and can protect the public from him.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony could order Brother Chumik to leave his archdiocese, church law experts say. The Franciscans say the cardinal hasn’t objected to their arrangement concerning Brother Chumik because they have assured him over the years that the friar is closely monitored.

Cardinal Mahony “is understanding about this,” said the Rev. Tom West, who is Father Jurisich’s top aide at the Franciscans’ regional headquarters in Oakland. “He said, ‘Just keep me informed, please,’ and that’s what we do.”

The cardinal’s spokesman, however, said that the archdiocese has “no record of or information about” Brother Chumik. The spokesman, Tod Tamberg, did not answer follow-up questions from The Dallas Morning News and said the cardinal wasn’t giving interviews because of pending lawsuits alleging abuse cover-ups.

Brother Chumik is one of about 200 Catholic priests, brothers and other religious workers who have escaped sexual abuse allegations by moving abroad, a global investigation by The News has found. About 30 of these men face current criminal charges or investigations, and many remain free with their superiors’ blessing.

Cardinal Mahony, echoing Pope John Paul II, declared recently, “There is no room in the priesthood or religious life for someone who has abused a child.” But he has drawn criticism for leaving some accused men on duty, saying that evidence against them is lacking. And he has refused to surrender personnel records to plaintiffs’ lawyers and prosecutors, citing the priests’ privacy rights.

Franciscans surprised

Franciscan leaders said they were surprised to hear that the cardinal’s spokesman was disavowing knowledge of Brother Chumik. They noted that the archdiocese employed the friar as a jail chaplain for many years and that church records have shown him living at parish properties. Brother Chumik, who is retired, declined to discuss his past and the charges against him. He suffers from diabetes and is largely confined to the Franciscans’ infirmary, Father West said.

But Brother Chumik said he spends much of his time tending geraniums and rare plants.

“He has quite a nice herb garden,” said his immediate superior in Santa Barbara, the Rev. Alberic Smith. “He finds that very fulfilling.”

Brother Chumik has been in sex-offender therapy for many years, said Father Smith, adding that he knows of no accusations against the Canadian in California. Father Smith also said he believes his colleague has been open about all his past abuses, which he termed “acting out.”

Father West, the regional Franciscan official, said Brother Chumik has admitted having sex with his accuser in the criminal case, but “he perceived him to be of age.”

1970s accusations

Brother Chumik stands accused of enticing a boy, at ages 12 and 15, to perform oral sex in the 1970s. Police in St. John’s, capital of the eastern Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, say they began asking church leaders to hand over Brother Chumik shortly after he was charged 14 years ago.

“They were not going to do anything,” Sgt. Mark Wall said. “Their attitude was, ‘It’s up to Chumik.'”

But Franciscan leaders say Canadian authorities have never asked them to return the 69-year-old fugitive .

“In talking to me, they were quite satisfied with the situation he’s in here – that he’s virtually under house arrest,” Father Smith said. “They weren’t interested in extradition.”

St. John’s police inquired about extradition when they filed charges. Local prosecutors told them that the U.S.-Canada extradition treaty at the time didn’t cover the alleged crime of gross indecency.

However, the treaty did cover “unlawful sexual acts with or upon children.” A U.S. government official told The News that he did not understand the Canadian prosecutors’ interpretation of the treaty and failure to seek extradition.

After the newspaper recently inquired about the matter, police sought a new legal opinion. Prosecutor Pam Goulding told The News that the treaty has specifically covered gross indecency since 1991 and that her office was preparing a new opinion about whether Brother Chumik could be forced back to Canada.

The move to California

In the late 1970s, Brother Chumik moved to California from western Canada, where he was based early in his career. He sometimes also worked temporarily in Newfoundland, although the Franciscans had no operations there. There are conflicting explanations for his international move.

Father Jurisich, the U.S. Franciscan leader, said the personnel records he has provide no reason. He speculated that Brother Chumik might have been seeking a warmer climate.

The Rev. Bob Mokry, who now leads the Franciscans in western Canada, said the brother left home after talking about becoming a hermit.

Father Smith, the Franciscan supervisor in Santa Barbara, initially said that he assumed Brother Chumik had been moved because of abuse complaints and that personnel records wouldn’t reflect this. Such concealment routinely “happened back in the 1970s,” he said.

After consulting with Brother Chumik, Father Smith relayed another explanation to The News: that the transfer occurred because the Canadian was looking for more chances to work with poor people.

The Franciscans in Canada “didn’t have a lot of opportunities for that,” Father Smith said.

Life as a jail chaplain

Brother Chumik spent most of his working years in California as a jail chaplain, with a brief stint as a mental hospital chaplain, Franciscan officials said.”He stressed very strongly the responsibility inmates would have to change their lives,” Father Smith said. It’s “kind of ironic,” he said, that the Canadian fugitive had spent so much time in detention facilities.

Los Angeles, Fresno

Brother Chumik served in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and the Fresno Diocese from 1980 to 1985, then returned to Los Angeles. There, the archdiocese laid him off for financial reasons in 1995, the Franciscans say.

Since then, they say, Brother Chumik has been out of ministry, spending most of his time at a rural retreat house in the Fresno Diocese. He moved back to the Los Angeles Archdiocese last year and lives at the Franciscans’ 18th-century mission in Santa Barbara, a well-known tourist attraction and parish church that includes a residence for order members.

St. Anthony’s Seminary, a residential high school for boys, once was attached to the mission but closed in 1987.

An investigation commissioned by the Franciscans later concluded that 25 percent of the friars who worked there had molested students.

Father Jurisich, the U.S. Franciscan leader who oversees Brother Chumik, was rector of the seminary for several years and has begged forgiveness for the abuse. Like Cardinal Mahony, he has portrayed himself as a reformer on abuse issues.Brother Chumik is the only fugitive the California Franciscans are housing, Father Jurisich said. All sex offenders who have remained in the order are closely supervised by fellow friars and barred from ministry, he said.

The Franciscans also pay a former probation officer to keep tabs on these men, Father Jurisich said.

Contact by phone

That ex-officer, Gerry Dunn, said he regularly checks up on Brother Chumik by phone, but “I don’t do any actual surveillance” or unannounced visits. Mr. Dunn is in Oakland, about 300 miles from Santa Barbara.He said that he knows Brother Chumik is “a person in flight” from the Canadian authorities but that he doesn’t think he’s dangerous. The friar , he said, appears to comply with all restrictions – including never leaving the mission unaccompanied and not interacting with parish members or visitors.

Order members say they feel a familial obligation to Brother Chumik and want to keep him close, both to care for his health problems and to protect children.”I’d like to see this put forward as a success story,” said Father Smith. “It’s working out for the safety of everyone concerned.”

News coverage of friars who have abused in the past sometimes fails to focus on such successes, Father Smith and Father West said.”We’ll find from time to time that if a lot of publicity comes up,” Father Smith said, “we have to move someone.”

Correspondent T.J. Sullivan contributed to this report from Santa Barbara.E-mail begerton@dallasnews.com and rdunklin@dallasnews.com

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Friar Facing Charges in Canada Is at Mission

Gerald Chumik, 69, Who Is Accused of Molesting a Boy in the ’70s, Lives with Santa Barbara Clerics

Los Angeles Times

July 15, 2004

By Amanda Covarrubias and Steve Chawkins

A Franciscan friar facing charges for allegedly molesting a boy in Canada has been living since 2002 at a convalescent home for clerics on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Mission.

Brother Gerald Chumik, 69, is being treated at the Franciscans’ infirmary for cancer and diabetes, said Father Mel Jurisich, who heads the Franciscan order’s Western U.S. region.

Prosecutors in Canada have issued a warrant for Chumik’s arrest if he returns. However, they say that Canadian law prevents them from seeking his extradition.

Church critics point to Chumik’s stay in Santa Barbara as an outrageous example of the church offering protection to errant priests who may still pose a threat to children.

Officials of the Franciscan order and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles counter that Chumik is strictly monitored. They said he was undergoing therapy and was being kept away from children.

“It’s a very responsible action on the Franciscans’ part to care for the physical and psychological needs of Brother Chumik,” said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

The archdiocese has no direct authority over Chumik, who is not an employee and lives in a facility owned and run by the Franciscan order, Tamberg said.

Chumik is accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy from 1971 to 1974 in the eastern Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. He was charged with the crime of gross indecency 14 years ago, said Kathleen Healy, assistant director of public prosecutions for the province.

But extradition proceedings were never initiated because the crime was not covered in the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Canada, she said. It was unclear why gross indecency was exempt.

Although Canadian authorities contacted the Los Angeles Archdiocese, where Chumik was working when charges were filed, he was never returned to his homeland.

“We can’t compel him to come back,” Healy said Wednesday. “We would like to prosecute him, but it is just not feasible right now.”

But that explanation did not satisfy Mary Grant, a spokeswoman for the national group SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. She said her group planned to picket the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles in the next few weeks.

“We think he needs to be sent back to Canada for prosecution,” she said. “If the archdiocese and other dioceses can work together to hide him from prosecution, then they certainly can cooperate with law enforcement to get him to Canada. It’s the only way to ensure the man will never harm another child.”

Grant said she was skeptical about the assurances from church officials that Chumik was being closely watched.

Church officials “can’t be trusted to protect kids,” she said.

Chumik spends his days and nights in the 25-bed infirmary at the historic mission, set on a hilltop overlooking the ocean. He sleeps in a small room and spends much of his time alone, tending a garden and praying.

He also attends sex-offender therapy sessions once a month in Los Angeles, Franciscan officials said.

His fellow clerics mostly shun him.

“He’s in hell,” said Jurisich, who oversees 210 friars in six Western states. “He has shame in the religious community, where he’s not one of the boys. He eats by himself. He’s very quiet.”

Jurisich said it was his understanding that Chumik admitted to Franciscan officials that he had sex with his accuser, but “he thought the person was of appropriate age.”

Jurisich said Canadian authorities have never contacted him about Chumik and have talked only with the archdiocese. But even if they did ask him to turn in Chumik, he would decline.

“I don’t see it’s our responsibility to be law enforcement officers,” he said. “He has a conscience, and he’s going to have to answer to his God. I’m not God, but I can make sure society is safe. Some have suggested I put him in an ambulance in handcuffs and drive him to the border. That’s not my job. Why is the legal burden put on us?”

Chumik moved to California in the late 1970s from western Canada, but reasons for his move are unclear. Jurisich said he heard it was because Chumik wanted to live in a warmer climate. He said Franciscan superiors in California did not know Chumik was an accused child molester when they accepted him.

Chumik, who is not an ordained priest, spent most of his years in California as a prison chaplain in Los Angeles and Fresno, where he worked from 1980 to 1985, including a stint as a mental hospital chaplain. Jurisich said Chumik never did parish work and never worked with children. After the Canadian case was filed in 1990, Chumik worked as a cook at St. Joseph’s Church in Los Angeles, where he prepared meals for the priests.

A few years later, he was transferred to Three Rivers, a rural retreat in the Fresno Diocese, where he stayed until he was sent to the Santa Barbara Mission two years ago.

“We believe he poses no danger,” Tamberg said. “Everyone knows where he is and who he is. The authorities know where he is.”

Officials at two nearby schools were informed about the friar, as were Santa Barbara parishioners, Tamberg said.

An advisory committee — composed of a molestation victim abused by a priest, a community member and officials from the two nearby schools — has toured the convalescent home to make sure “he’s safe, the community’s safe and they’re fine with the situation,” Jurisich said.

Chumik and one other sex offender who remains in the order are closely supervised by fellow friars and barred from ministry, he said, but did not elaborate on the circumstances involving the other individual. The Franciscans also hired a former probation officer to monitor the men.

Father Alberic Smith, the superior at the mission, said Chumik was not allowed to leave the grounds unaccompanied or interact with parishioners or visitors. Smith said Chumik’s cancer was in remission but he would remain at the infirmary the rest of his life to receive medical attention.

“He’s under the equivalency of house arrest,” Smith said.

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Fugitive Catholic brother in United States faces charges but not extradition

Canadian Press

13 July 2014

Dene Moore

ST. JOHN’S, Nfld. (CP) – A Roman Catholic brother living in the United States who faces child sex charges in Newfoundland will be arrested immediately should he ever return to Canada.

But Canadian prosecutors are not seeking the extradition of Gerald Chumik, who has been identified by a U.S. newspaper as one of 30 fugitive priests, brothers and other religious workers living in the U.S. facing sex abuse accusations in other countries.

Chumik, who lives in a Catholic religious complex overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, Calif., was charged in 1990 with two child sex offences dating back to the 1970s.

“At that time, the file was reviewed and for various reasons it was determined that extradition was not feasible,” said Kathleen Healey, assistant director of public prosecutions in Newfoundland.

The logistics of extradition, as well as details of the case that can’t be disclosed, contributed to the decision, Healey said.

The file was reviewed recently and the Crown reached the same decision.

“But it is an active file and should Mr. Chumik return to Canada we would pursue the prosecution,” Healey said.

There is an arrest warrant for Chumik in Canada, as there are for thousands of people who no longer reside in the country, ranging from foreign tourists to Canadians now living abroad.

Authorities say they don’t know how many of those cases involve child sex offences, by religious leaders or otherwise.

There are not always resources to follow up when suspects flee, Healey said.

A spokeswoman for the Catholic archdiocese in St. John’s, Nfld., said she was not aware of Chumik or the charges against him.

“I only know what you know,” said Maxine Davis, who has worked for the archdiocese for 30 years.

Chumik was visiting the province from Alberta at the time the alleged offences occurred, said Staff Sgt. June Layden, spokeswoman for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in St. John’s.

One former resident of the notorious Mount Cashel orphanage in St. John’s says the church has helped suspected child abusers in the past.

“The philosophy that they follow is deny, deny,” said J.J. Byrne, one of about 40 men suing the Christian Brothers in the United States for abuse at the now-defunct orphanage.

The assets of the Christian Brothers of Canada have been liquidated to compensate about 90 victims abused after 1963, when the Canadian order became a separate entity from the U.S. order.

Those who say they were abused before 1963 are continuing their legal fight against the order based in New York.

Ten brothers have been convicted of abusing boys at the orphanage, which closed in 1990.

The Christian Brothers experience may have contributed to the Crown’s decision, said Byrne.

It took authorities four years to have former brother John Evangelist Murphy returned from New York.

In May, about eight years after he was charged, the 74-year-old father of nine was given a 20-month conditional sentence for four counts of indecent assault.

A spokesman for the order housing Chumik told the Dallas Morning News that Chumik, 69, suffers from diabetes and other health problems.

Rev. Tom West said Chumik has received sex offender treatment and is monitored by a former probation officer.

Byrne said Chumik’s accusers may never see him face trial.

“It appears that he’s going to escape justice and the victim is the one that ends up not getting any justice or closure or anything else,” he said.

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