The Case of Father Basil Onyia

Dallas Morning News
December 6, 2004

In November 1999, shortly after coming to the Brownsville Diocese from Nigeria for a three-year visit, the Rev. Basil Onyia was named assistant pastor at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle. Misconduct complaints against him began almost immediately at the South Texas church. Later came sexual abuse allegations:

Nov. 13, 1999 A basilica employee tells her supervisor that Father Onyia has been clasping her hands insistently and asked her to go to Africa with him.

January 2000 Another employee and an altar girl make similar complaints of unwanted touching, which are relayed to Bishop Raymundo Pe�a. Father Onyia is told to stop and agrees to do so, but he says his behavior is acceptable in Nigeria.

Early 2000 Father Onyia begins counseling a mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed teenage girl, at her mother's request. He soon begins sexually assaulting her, according to court records.

April 20, 2000 A 19-year-old woman tells San Juan police that Father Onyia hugged her, licked her face and tried to French-kiss her during a counseling session. She declines to press charges but later changes her mind; an assault case is pending.

September 2000 The priest is transferred to a parish in Harlingen.

Nov. 3, 2000 Monsignor Juan Nicolau, the basilica's head priest, urges Bishop Pe�a in a memo to send Father Onyia back to Nigeria.

Dec. 14, 2000 The pastor of the Harlingen parish tells the bishop that Father Onyia brought two girls to his room and told them they could lie on his bed.

Jan. 2, 2001 Bishop Pe�a asks Father Onyia's bishop in Aba, Nigeria, to recall him but leaves the priest on duty.

Feb. 10, 2001 The mentally retarded girl tells her mother that Father Onyia has been molesting and sexually assaulting her. The family tells Monsignor Nicolau. He alerts the bishop, who confronts Father Onyia.

Feb. 12, 2001 Father Onyia comes to the family home and begs for forgiveness. A crisis counselor who is present calls Pharr police. Bishop Pe�a suspends Father Onyia and orders him to move to another South Texas county but does not immediately tell police.

Mid-February 2001 Father Onyia tells police by telephone that he will submit to questioning, but he doesn't show up. He flees to Nigeria and returns to parish work in the Aba Diocese.

February 19, 2001 Bishop Pe�a writes Father Onyia in Nigeria to revoke the priest�s permission to work in the Brownsville Diocese.

Feb. 20, 2001 The Brownsville Diocese's attorney tells police in a letter to send all interview and information requests to him. He says the diocese didn't know Father Onyia would flee.

March 10, 2001 Police obtain an arrest warrant.

April 30, 2001 The family in Pharr sues the diocese, which later pays a settlement but admits no wrongdoing.

June 2002 Pharr police complain publicly that the diocese hasn't cooperated with their investigation. They say church officials' delay in reporting abuse allegations gave Father Onyia time to flee. Church officials dispute the complaints.

Aug. 1, 2002 Father Onyia is indicted on sexual assault and abuse charges.

Feb. 21, 2003 The Hidalgo County district attorney's office tells the FBI it intends to extradite the priest and asks for help locating him. But prosecutors never follow through with required paperwork.

Today Father Onyia tells The Dallas Morning News he is innocent of all charges and says Bishop Pe�a advised him to flee.

The Rev. Onyia


Previously: Worked in the Brownsville Diocese from 1999-2001

Currently: He is parish priest at St. David Catholic Church in the Nigerian village of Uratta Sources: Criminal, civil and church records; Dallas Morning News research.


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