Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Kenyan Priest Charged With Sex Assault in Virginia Served As Chaplain in NH

Kenyan Priest Charged With Sex Assault in Virginia Served As Chaplain in NH
By Admin | Tue, 08/31/2010 12:53AM -0400
A priest who had served as chaplain at a small New Hampshire Catholic college was arrested in Virginia last month and charged with sexual assault against an 11-year-old girl, two activists organizations said yesterday.

The Rev. Felix Owino was arrested in Herndon, Va., which is about 25 miles west of Washington, D.C. A Fairfax County police spokesman said Owino was considered a longtime friend of the alleged victim's family.

A native of Nairobi, Kenya, Owino served as chaplain of Magdalen College in Warner from June 2005 to October 2008, the college said yesterday. He was a member of the Africa-based Apostles of Jesus missionary worder.

Yesterday, New Hampshire Voice of the Faithful and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests picketed outside the Diocese of Manchester offices yesterday to demand better efforts to find potential victims in the Granite State.

Diocesan spokesman Kevin Donovan said there are no allegations against Owino in New Hampshire involving sexual abuse of a minor. He said he was unaware of any allegations of improprieties against Owino.

"We've reached out to the college to offer pastoral and counseling support," Donovan said.

College spokesman Jim Van Damm said Owino was a part-time teacher and chaplain at the college, which had 68 students last year. The college never received any complaints about Owino when he was stationed there, he said.

"He was an excellent teacher and a pious priest," Van Damm said.

At the time of his arrest, Owino was on summer break from his duties as a philosophy instructor at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. He also served as associate pastor of St. Paul Parish in Weirton, W.Va.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston suspended Owino from his priestly duties pending the outcome of his trial in Virginia. He had been scheduled for court Thursday, but that has been postponed.

In Manchester yesterday, Carolyn Disco urged the diocese and Magdalen officials to reach out to alumni and other participants in Magdalen programs during the Owino's years in Warner.

"We are well within the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution," said Disco. "That's not to say there's something here."

The diocesan website yesterday made no mention of Owino, or any priest accused of sex crimes. Donovan noted that the website includes a link on its homepage on how to report abuse. The diocese also runs notices in church bulletins about how to report abuse, he said.

"We don't put up (information about) specific priests," Donovan said. "This priest was never assigned a ministry in a New Hampshire parish."

Disco said the groups want more than a generic notice about reporting sexual abuse. Most victims, she said, do not report abuse, and proactive outreach by the diocese would encourage any possible victims of Owino, or other priests, to speak up instead of suffering in silence.

Disco said Bishop John B. McCormack has a poor record of outreach.

"It's about outreach," she said. "You do more than just a one paragraph boilerplate (notice)."

Earlier this month, McCormack announced he had submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict 16th. No replacement has been named, and McCormack continues in his role as shepherd of New Hampshire Catholics.

Donovan said Magdalen College is a private Catholic entity that is not overseen by the bishop. Magdalen brought Owino to the college, and all McCormack did was verify that he was a priest in good standing with his order, Donovan said.

That allowed Owino to celebrate Mass in the diocese.

Donovan said the diocese would report to authorities any allegations of child-sex crimes involving an outside priest to authorities.

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