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Priest wanted on South Texas arrest warrant in Nigeria

Posted by The Associated Press on 2004/12/05 | Views: 4148 |

Priest wanted on South Texas arrest warrant in Nigeria


A priest accused of s-xually abusing a mentally retarded girl in South Texas fled to his native Nigeria a few days before a warrant could be issued for his arrest and prosecutors have not tried to force him back to face charges, according to a published report.

A priest accused of s-xually abusing a mentally retarded girl in South Texas fled to his native Nigeria a few days before a warrant could be issued for his arrest and prosecutors have not tried to force him back to face charges, according to a published report.

Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra said he supports returning the Rev. Basil Onyia to the Rio Grande Valley to face the 2002 s-xual assault and abuse charges against him, but he blamed a lack of resources in finding Onyia.

"You tell me I´m going to find a guy who can blend in in Nigeria, who I don´t suspect is a practicing Catholic priest over there?" he asked in a story in Monday´s editions of The Dallas Morning News. "Go find him for me and I´ll bring the sucker back. What can I do? My county´s broke."

The Morning News, which has conducted a year-long investigation of the international movement of accused priests, reported that Onyia´s bishop in Nigeria had put him back to work in parishes there upon his return from the diocese in Brownsville. The newspaper said Onyia had been named in July to a state government panel investigating misconduct allegations against a prominent politician.

Onyia, 38, said at St. David, a church in Uratta, Nigeria, that he did nothing wrong in Texas. "I am just a victim of circumstance," he said in the story in the Morning News. "There was nothing like molestation, assault or s-xual abuse of any kind."

Onyia said he returned to Nigeria on the advise of Bishop Raymundo Pena, who heads the Brownsville diocese, and other Nigerian priests working in the United States.

Diocese lawyer David C. Garza said in a February 2001 letter to police that he and Pena did not know that Onyia had left or was planning to leave and that the diocese wanted to cooperate fully in the investigation.

Pena declined in written responses to the newspaper to confirm or deny if he advised Onyia to flee. He said he did not know that Onyia was working as a priest in Nigeria.

Onyia said in the Morning News story that he was fearful because other Nigerian priests had told him that "here in America, once you are black, the case is against you." He said he left everything behind and fled to Nigeria.

The Morning News reported that a crisis counselor saw Onyia beg forgiveness in 2001 from the girl´s mother after church leaders confronted him about the allegations of abuse.

Police said Guerra´s office discouraged them from investigating church officials´ dealings with the priest. Guerra, who is Catholic, said police never complained to him about the assistant prosecutor on the case.

"That´s a bunch of baloney," Guerra said. "If you can talk to me, any stupid police officer can talk to me."

Guerra said he also didn´t know if it would be illegal to not share information about Onyia´s whereabouts.

Texas law forbids hindering a suspect´s apprehension, whether by concealing him, helping him escape or warning him of impending arrest.

Although Guerra said his office doesn´t usually seek indictments of fugitives it did so against Onyia so there wouldn´t be accusations of impeding justice.

The newspaper said s-xual harassment complaints began against Onyia in late 1999, soon after he arrived as a visiting priest. Two church employees said he would grab their hands and not let go and an altar girl complained of unwanted touching. Church records showed the priest agreed to stop although he said his behavior was acceptable in Nigeria.

A 19-year-old woman later told police that Onyia hugged her and tried to kiss her.

Onyia was later transferred to a Harlingen parish, where he was accused of taking two girls to his bedroom. Monsignor Juan Nicolau recommended in a letter to Pena that Onyia be returned to Nigeria. Pena asked the bishop in Nigeria in January 2001 to recall Onyia to prevent scandal in the diocese.

Onyia suggested in the Morning News story that he was a victim of a plot involving Nicolau and the mentally retarded girl´s family.

The girl´s family reached a settlement of a lawsuit against the diocese, in which the diocese admitted no wrongdoing. The girl´s mother said the financial settlement hasn´t helped them much and it is hard to move on because the criminal case is still pending.

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