Bishop Sought Recall of Two Accused Priests Last Year, Records Show

By Emma Perez-Trevino
Brownsville Herald
August 9, 2002

A little more than a year ago, Bishop Raymundo Pena penned several letters to a bishop in Africa asking that he recall two Nigerian priests serving in the Brownsville Diocese.

Diocese documents obtained by The Herald indicate that �preventing scandal� is what guided the diocese in its initial handing of the concerns.

Pena wrote to Bishop Vincent Ezeonyia of the Diocese of Aba on Jan. 2, 2001 with concerns about priests Basil Onyia and Donatus Ironuma.

On Feb. 10, 2001, Onyia was accused of sexually assaulting a minor girl who later sued Onyia and the diocese in state court.

Documents show that before Feb. 10, Pena received about eight complaints about Onyia ranging from fiscal impropriety to taking two girls to his room, before opting to contact Ezeonyia.

A prepared statement issued by the Brownsville Diocese Tuesday states that �At this time, due to pending litigation, we believe it is best to allow for the legal process to take its course without trying this case in the media, where piecemeal information presented may not be placed in proper context.�

In the 2001 letters, Pena informed Ezeonyia that Onyia had difficulties with fiscal responsibility and women while Ironuma had difficulty adapting to the culture.

�� I deem it advisable for Your Excellency to recall them to your diocese for ministry among their own people.

�This would prevent the possibility of scandal in this diocese, and avoid hurting them in their ministry in the long run,� Pena wrote and offered to help with travel costs.

Pena wrote that a third priest was doing well and a fourth also although, he writes, the priest had �been accused of making advances to a married woman,� noting, �he has denied the accusation and nothing more has been said.�

The complaints against Onyia started soon after assigned to the Basilica of San Juan in November 1999.

Employees felt uncomfortable. He hugged and caressed the hands of an altar server, documents reflect.

A priest reported that, �a lady would consistently visit with him up in his room at the Rectory during his stay.�

In December 2000, a woman complained that he took two girls to his room and allegedly said they could lie on his bed and that priests can have girlfriends.

Ezeonyia wrote back Feb. 5, 2001. �I am extremely concerned that they belied all expectation � However, permit me to appeal that they take a degree course in a university before they leave.

�Failure to do so would ruin them for life before their peers.�

Pena wrote back that the diocese couldn�t do anything for Onyia because he had left.

Regarding Ironuma, Pena said that the diocese would give him a $5,000 scholarship to the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio and said he was willing to recommend Ironuma to Archbishop Patrick Flores. On Feb. 19, 2001, Pena revoked Onyia�s faculties and admonished him for failing to heed his verbal instructions to seek legal counsel, to not contact the family of the alleged sexual assault victim and for leaving the diocese and country without his permission.

�Be assured of my prayers for you and for your bishop and diocese. I pray that your service to the Church in Aba, under the direction and supervision of the bishop, be for the glory of God and the welfare of God�s people,� Pena wrote to Onyia.


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