SNAP Supporters Criticize Owino, Actions of Diocese

By Julie Ghrist
The Herald-Star
July 16, 2010

There were several reasons why a Missouri woman stood outside of St. Paul Church late Thursday morning.

For one, she is the Midwest associate director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and said she is appalled by the recent actions of church officials and the Rev. Felix C. Owino, A.J., who is charged with aggravated sexual battery of a minor under the age of 13.

For another, Judy Jones says the main reason for her presence is that a school lies behind the church where Owino once served as an associate pastor.

Jones and local S.N.A.P. supporters gathered to state their beliefs on the inappropriate behaviors of Owino, who is being held without bond in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center in Virginia, and church officials, who she says handled the situation completely wrong.

Jones said the West Virginia diocese delayed its disclosure of the recent arrest of Owino, not reporting the incident to the public for several days. She noted Owino was arrested July 8, but officials did not notify the public until July 12.

"S.N.A.P. feels that such delays give wrong-doers and their accomplices more chances to destroy evidence, fabricate alibis, intimidate witnesses, threaten victims and even flee the country," Jones stated. "The group wants Wheeling Bishop Michael Bransfield to explain and apologize for keeping his (Owino's) arrest quiet for days."

S.N.A.P. supporters are speaking out about the poor advice being given by the diocese, which said in a public statement that victims of child sexual abuse should contact church staffers listed as clerics, as opposed to contacting law enforcement officials.

"Few who are sexually assaulted by clerics feel comfortable reporting their experiences to other clerics," Jones said.

The diocese should offer trained lay professionals, not priests, to speak to individuals, she added.

"Parents need to talk to their kids in a gentle way because the little ones don't realize what's happened," she continued. "But my question is, why? Why did it take so long for the church to come out to the public? That's what I'm asking. I don't think they even announced that he (Owino) had been arrested during church on Sunday because it seems like everyone, even the parishioners, was surprised at his arrest on Monday."

"When alleged predator priests are arrested, often others with information about the crimes stay silent," Jones said. "That puts an undue burden on the victim and makes it more likely the accused will get off on a technicality or receive a lenient sentence or plea deal. So S.N.A.P. urges West Virginia church officials to use their considerable resources to prod others who say, suspected or suffered Owino's crimes to call police immediately."

A letter was sent to Bransfield by fax and e-mail, along with an attempt by Jones to hand-deliver the letter to the bishop Thursday afternoon.

Owino, has been suspended from his duties as a priest within the diocese pending the outcome of his trial in Virginia, according to officials with the Wheeling-Charleston diocese.


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