Second Lawsuit Filed on Diocese, Ex-Priest

By Emma Perez-Trevino
Brownsville Herald
September 6, 2002

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and ex-Rio Grande Valley priest Basil Ckukwuma Onyia were named in a second lawsuit filed against them Thursday as the number of Onyia�s alleged victims mounts.

The lawsuit was filed in 370th District Court in Hidalgo County on behalf of two girls from Harlingen who were minors at the time of the alleged offense.

With them, the list of Onyia�s alleged victims rises to four.

The Brownsville-Mission law firm of Magallanes, Hinojosa & Mancias represents the two girls.

Not having seen the lawsuit, diocese spokeswoman Brenda Nettles Riojas said Thursday that she was not able to immediately comment.

The lawsuit alleges that the assaults took place at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Harlingen on two occasions; first in November 2000 when Onyia forcefully grabbed and kissed one of the girls while she went to him for counseling and demanded that she say nothing about it.

The second alleged incident occurred in December 2000 after an early morning Mass when Onyia convinced both girls to visit his living quarters at the church�s rectory where he is accused of sexually accosting them.

The firm alleges that the diocese was first negligent in hiring and allowing Onyia to remain as a parish priest at the Basilica de San Juan Shrine in San Juan when the diocese supposedly knew that he sexually assaulted parishioners and harassed several female diocese employees.

The firm claims that the diocese did nothing to address or resolve Onyia�s sexual misconduct and instead, transferred him to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in the fall of 2000 in an attempt to �cover up� his actions.

�Defendant diocese took no action to warn the Harlingen, Texas community or the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church parishioners about defendant Basil Onyia�s acts of sexual misconduct and propensities for sexual misconduct,� the petition that attorney J.A. Magallanes signed states.

Magallanes also noted that the Harlingen community and parishioners remained unprotected from the threat that Onyia posed.

This is the second lawsuit that the firm has filed against the diocese and Onyia.

A young girl and her mother from Hidalgo County sued the diocese and Onyia in April last year, alleging that Onyia sexually assaulted the girl on several occasions from January 2000 to February 2001.

A warrant for Onyia�s arrest was issued after the alleged assault of the Hidalgo County girl was reported to Pharr police in February 2001, but Onyia disappeared in the middle of a criminal investigation last year. His whereabouts remain unknown to law enforcement officials.

The firm alleges in both suits that the diocese was negligent because it has �fraudulently concealed information allowing priests such as defendant Basil Onyia access to children for his sexual gratification.�

In addition, the firm alleges that the diocese, Onyia, and others, �have and continue to engage in a conspiracy to cover up the incidents of priest sexual abuse of minors and prevent disclosure, prosecution and civil litigation� by denying the abuse, spoiling evidence, reassigning priests and applying religious duress and coercion.

A fourth young woman spoke to police this summer, alleging that Onyia had accosted her. She has not filed suit.

The firm�s clients are seeking monetary damages against the diocese and Onyia, but the amount is not noted in court documents.


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