It is with great sorrow that we come together today with the departure of our president and dear friend, Fr. Julio Giulietti, S.J. We have all come here to seek the truth, and to know and understand what has happened within the university walls and what has become of the reputation of WJU. In this light, please invite anyone to read the blog and feel free to comment as you wish.

Any posts with profanity are not welcome, otherwise, please speak your mind. You are a part of this university and we want to hear your voice!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

SNAP director criticizes Jesuit university

The following is a guest commentary written by David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Several weeks ago, a Wheeling Jesuit University priest and teacher was arrested in a Washington DC suburb and charged with molesting a girl.

The university's president, Sister Francis Marie Thrailkill, and her public relations staff quickly sent out to area media a shamelessly self-serving news release that shows just how much further Catholic authorities have to go if ever they hope to effective come to grips with the horrific child sex abuse and cover up crisis.

Thrailkill almost tried to pretend she and her colleagues barely know the alleged predator, Father Felix Owino. But instead of working to distance themselves from him, Catholic officials should be working to find and bring forward other potential victims, witnesses and whistleblowers, so that justice can be done.

According to the university's statement, Owino "has no current responsibilities" at Wheeling Jesuit. He "is not expected or return to the school." He "was on summer break" when he was arrested. Owino was allegedly the subject of "no student complaints," the school says. Most recently, he was teaching "on line." He's "not a member of the Jesuits." He is "originally from Kenya."

Can they do anything more to detach themselves from this priest? Why not go one step further and try to reassure worried parents by saying Owino doesn't own any T-shirts or jerseys or jackets with the university logo on them? At the risk of sounding trite, can you imagine Jesus responding like this if one of his apostles had been arrested for a suspected child sex crime?

Adding insult to injury, Thrailkill's news release urges victims to contact school staff. She's dead wrong. Anyone who saw, suspected or suffered Owino's crimes should call police officials, not church or school officials. This is almost always true, but especially when there's already an active criminal investigation.

Those with knowledge or suspicions about Owino's alleged crimes or misdeeds have a Christian and civic duty to step forward, call police, and help the truth surface. Those who employed Owino (both Thrailkill and Wheeling Bishop Michael Bransfield) have a moral obligation to seek out and help others Owino may have hurt. Here's the bottom line: When victims, witnesses and whistleblowers speak up, at least there's a chance that children will be protected, victims will be healed and wrong-doers will be exposed. But when victims, witnesses and whistleblowers stay silent, nothing changes and kids keep getting hurt. And when authorities (in this case, both university and diocesan) focus more on damage control than abuse prevention, the Catholic Church's abuse crisis gets worse, not better.

Just a few short weeks ago, the pope pledged to "do everything possible" to stop future child sex crimes by priests. Somehow, Wheeling Jesuit University's president must not have heard or understood this promise. How else to explain their herculean efforts to duck and dodge and distance themselves from a credibly accused predator, instead of trying to find his victims and help law enforcement investigate him?

(David Clohessy, of St. Louis, is a clergy sex abuse victim and the executive director of SNAP. He can be reached at 314-566-9790 or SNAPclohessy@[no spam]aol.com.)

- as published by Matt Abbott at RenewAmerica.com


  1. Less than two months after Creighton announces the retirement of Fr. Schleigel, they already have a replacement. How long has WJU been without a President? How many Jesuits applied for the position when it was opened after Fr. Hacala's passing? One--Fr. Julio. How many applied after Fr. Julio was fired? None.

    It's been a sad state for how many years?

  2. SNAP goes overboard sometimes. There is nothing wrong with Sr. Thrailkill asking WJU student to report any alleged misconduct by former adjunct instructor, Fr. Owino, to the president's office. WJU students are adults, not children, and any sexual misbehavior with WJU students would probably not be a criminal matter. Furthermore, the college president should hear about any improper sexual behavior by former adjunct faculty. Clohessy would be on firmer footing criticizing Bishop Bransfield -- he is the Bishop who employed Fr. Owino to act as associate pastor of a parish in Weirton where children go to school.

    Suggestion to Bishop Bransfield: You might want to delete Fr. Owino's name as Associate Pastor of St. Paul's Parish on your official Diocesan website pending the outcome of his trial.

  3. Anon. (9/13/10, 1:44pm), you cannot really believe that a professor’s nonconsensual “sexual misbehavior with WJU students would probably not be a criminal matter.” It most assuredly is. When a professor commits a crime, call the police!

    Associate professor of philosophy Felix Owino’s pedophilia case is now before a grand jury for an indictment while the professor remains incarcerated sans bond. Felix Owino’s charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and a $100,000 fine.

    David Clohessy wrote: “Somehow, Wheeling Jesuit University's president must not have heard or understood [the Pope’s] promise. How else to explain their herculean efforts to duck and dodge and distance themselves from a credibly accused predator?” Not the first time for WJU -- a credibly accused homosexual predator is a member of WJU’s Board of Trustees. He is Thomas F. Gleeson, S.J. He fired WJU’s President.

  4. Since when does this term, "credibly accused," take the place of due process? So, being "credibly accused' obviates the need for a trial? Any person "credibly accused" is presumed guilty until proven innocent? A man who has been accused of molesting a young girl can be assumed to engage in rape and sexual assault on adult college students -- although there has not been a single report or complant of such a thing happening? Blackstone would be turning over in his grave.

  5. In any setting where there is an inherent power imbalance between clergy-church members. It is much like a teacher-student, or doctor-patient, or therapist-client relationship, where any sexual contact is expressly forbidden. And for good reason: because it almost always results in devastation, with individuals and the families.

    We urge anyone who was harmed by Owino or Gleeson to call police officials, not church officials. Sex crimes, however old, should be investigated by the independent professionals in law enforcement, not the biased amateurs in church offices.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511
    "Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests"