Our Lady of Las Vegas: Accused priest suspended

Cleric still on lam after assault allegation

The Las Vegas Review-Journal/January 28, 2007
By David Kihara

The priest wanted for questioning in connection with the beating of a woman at Our Lady of Las Vegas Catholic Church was suspended from the Diocese of Las Vegas pending a police investigation of the incident, a spokeswoman for the diocese said.

Our Lady of Las Vegas priest George Chaanine was placed on administrative leave, meaning he cannot act in any capacity as a priest, said diocese spokeswoman Rachel Wilkinson.

Police said a church employee accused Chaanine of striking her Friday afternoon inside a building on the church's campus on the 3000 block of Alta Drive, near Rancho Drive.

Police on Saturday continued their search for the priest, who was considered a "person of interest" in the incident.

Chaanine owns a gun and could be armed and dangerous, police said.

"We want to talk with him, to hear his side of the story," Ted Moody, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Department's Investigative Services Division, said Saturday.

Moody didn't speculate on a possible motive for the incident and said the case still was under investigation.

"There was some kind of personal contact between the two people. It's reported to be a fight," he said.

The incident began at 4:22 p.m. Friday, when police received a call about an assault or battery at Our Lady of Las Vegas. A woman ran out of one of the church buildings and accused Chaanine of beating her, police said.

Police identified him Friday as "Georges Chaanine."

The Associated Press reported Saturday that the priest may have sexually assaulted and struck the woman.

Moody wouldn't confirm that the woman's accusations also involved allegations of sexual assault.

"We're not ruling anything out, and we're not jumping to any conclusions," he said.

Authorities took the woman to University Medical Center's trauma unit. She was treated and released Friday night.

Police blocked off streets near Our Lady of Las Vegas on Friday night while they searched several hours for Chaanine, who was believed to be on the church grounds. He wasn't found at the church and now is believed to have fled, possibly in a cream-colored Buick LeSabre with the Nevada license plate 732 RRM.

News of the incident spread quickly among Our Lady of Las Vegas church members.

Many people interviewed Saturday expressed shock that Chaanine, whom they described as calm and gentle, would be accused of hurting anyone.

"I don't believe he would do that. He is so caring and very much with the Lord," said Nancy Lawrance, a church member who attended a late afternoon Mass, the first since the allegations surfaced.

Chaanine, whom church members called "Father George," had been at the church about a year, church members said. He was an administrator and performed services on Sundays, they said.

"There were never any problems with him, and I had no concerns," said one woman, whose son once attended school at Our Lady of Las Vegas School.

The woman, a regular churchgoer at Our Lady of Las Vegas who declined to give her name, said she would continue to attend services there. But the allegations did make her uncomfortable, she said.

"We still have to go to church this weekend, but the incident makes it ... strange," she said.

Another church member, who occasionally worked with the priest and also declined to be identified, described Chaanine as quiet and considerate, making the accusations of violence surprising, she said.

"It's painful because it's our church and we hope it's not true," she said. "But if it is true, it has to be dealt with."

She said the woman who accused Chaanine of assaulting her had sung in the church choir.

"I don't know any reason she'd lie about this," she said.

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