Bishop David Zubik is writing to all parishioners of St. Bede Catholic Church in Point Breeze to ask if they know of any inappropriate behavior by a priest who once lived there, and who was recently charged with molesting an 11-year-old girl in Virginia.
The Rev. Felix Owino, 44, lived at St. Bede from September 1997 to May 2001 and from September 2003 to early January 2006 while he was a graduate student at Duquesne University.
The bishop urged anyone who may have experienced "anything inappropriate" to immediately contact the Allegheny County district attorney's office and the diocesan victim assistance coordinator.
"I would also ask that you share this matter as gently as possible in your family and especially with those who were children at the time Father Owino was in Pittsburgh," he wrote in a letter that was to be mailed today. He said he would have preferred to be at St. Bede this weekend to make that request in person, but that prior commitments prevented it.
Father Owino, a native of Kenya, is a priest of the Apostles of Jesus, a religious community with regional headquarters in Philadelphia. He was arrested July 8 in Fairfax, Va., and charged with aggravated sexual battery involving the 11-year-old daughter of close friends in Herndon, Va. The abuse reportedly occurred in July, when he was staying with the family.
Police said the girl immediately told her mother, who called police, according to a report Tuesday in the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.
WTOV-TV in Steubenville, which attempted to cover a closed hearing on the case Thursday in Fairfax, reported that the case will go to a grand jury.
The case has drawn interest in several states because of where Father Owino worked or studied.
He had been a teacher and chaplain at Magdalen College in Warner, N.H., from 2005 to 2008. But he most recently taught philosophy at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, and was a pastor in Weirton.
On Thursday, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests appealed to all institutions and dioceses where Father Owino had worked to seek out other potential victims.
A spokesman for Duquesne said she could find no record that Father Owino had ever worked for the university, and she was still trying to find out if he had engaged in volunteer ministry.
"He was a student, and he received a master's degree in philosophy in 1999 and a doctorate in philosophy in 2005," she said.
While teaching since 2008 at Wheeling Jesuit, Father Owino was pastor of St. Paul parish, Weirton. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston announced that it had suspended his right to function as a priest in the diocese when it learned of his arrest in July.
According to Maureen Zambito, public relations director for Wheeling Jesuit University, Father Owino had no role in campus ministry, and his most recent teaching assignment was an online class last spring. A statement about his arrest on the campus website said: "During his two years at Wheeling Jesuit, the campus authorities received no complaints about his conduct."
Since that announcement "we've never had any complaints about him, and we've reached out," Ms. Zambito said. "Naturally, he is no longer associated with us."
The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said that although Father Owino had no pastoral assignment at St. Bede, he would have said daily Mass there and had permission to function as a priest in the diocese.
"There was never a complaint about him to the diocese or to the parish," he said.
Because there had been no complaints here, the diocese didn't act immediately when it learned informally of his arrest in July, he said.
But Thursday, in addition to writing the letter, Bishop Zubik and diocesan officials notified the district attorney's office of the allegation from Virginia and informed Father Owino's superiors of the letter that is going to parishioners, Father Lengwin said.
Ann Rodgers: email@example.com or 412-263-1416.