Three New Mexico men have settled a lawsuit they had filed against the Diocese of Gallup, the Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Albuquerque, claiming they were sexually abused by a priest there as children.
According to a Gallup Independent report, these men are the first to file sexual abuse lawsuits in the Navajo Nation against the Catholic Church. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed at the request of the victims.
The allegations were made against Charles Cichanowicz, a Franciscan priest who worked on the Navajo Nation in the late-1970s and early-1980s. Cichanowicz worked at parishes in New Mexico and Arizona during that time.
The lawsuit also alleged that the Franciscans were made aware of the priest’s sexual abuse and he was caught in the act but instead of being removed from his position and criminally prosecuted, the church decided to transfer him to another parish. Cichanowicz left the church on his own accord years later but well after he was alleged to have abused these accusers.
The men filing the lawsuit said they hope their actions will protect children in the future from sexual abuse and to make the Navajo Nation aware of potential abuse being committed. For years, the subject of child sexual abuse has been taboo and even the parents of those who are victims of abuse are hesitant to come forward with allegations for fear of retribution or backlash from those closest to the church.
It has been more than a decade since the first major wave of sexual abuse lawsuits were weighed against the Catholic Church in the U.S. Hundreds and possibly thousands of children were victims of sexual abuse committed by priests working for the church. The church, rather than risking a tarnished profile, opted to keep these issues to themselves and rather than removing abusive priests, decided to transfer the accused to different churches, allowing them to prey on unknowing parishioners and their children.
Even those who were victims are often afraid to come forward with their allegations for fear that it will conjure memories of a horrific time in their lives. Those who eventually come forward usually do so to protect potential future victims of sexual abuse and to call attention to the issue.
This issue is not exclusive to the Catholic Church. Similar allegations have been made recently against religious officials in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Boy Scouts of America.