Statement Regarding Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka
Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan
Today’s verdict in the matter of the People of the State of Michigan vs. Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka brings to a conclusion the criminal case in the civil courts. Rev. Obwaka was found not guilty of both charges against him by a jury in the 53rd Circuit Court in Rogers City in accordance with our system of justice. We are grateful to civil authorities for their professionalism and dedication in carrying out that process.
When the allegations first came forward, the protocols for dealing with such matters within the Church were initiated and subsequently suspended while the case moved through the civil court. That process will now be resumed in an effort to address any ecclesial issues which may exist. Rev. Obwaka, a priest of the Diocese of Gaylord, will remain on administrative leave from his priestly assignments while that process continues.
For the immediate future, Rev. Joseph Muszkiewicz will continue as temporary administrator for St. Ignatius parish and, in collaboration with parish staff and leadership, will continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of the parish. Rev. James Fitzpatrick will continue serving as Sacramental Minister.
“These past months have been extremely painful and difficult for everyone involved,” said Candace Neff, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Gaylord. “While today’s verdict begins the path toward closure, healing will take time, patience and grace. The diocese will be doing all we can to help facilitate that.”
“This has indeed been a very sad time in our history,” said Bishop Steven J. Raica. “Yet, even in times of tribulation, we know we do not walk alone. Christ walks with us. I am so thankful for the expressions of support and for the many prayers that have been offered for our priests, parishes and the diocese during this time. I ask for continued prayers for everyone involved as we move forward and, together, let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.”
The Diocese of Gaylord has protocols in place to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct and encourages anyone who has been a victim of abuse by clergy or church leader, recently or even if it is in the distant past, to report the matter to civil authorities or to the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator Larry LaCross at 989.705.9010.
Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka Found Not Guilty Of Sexual Assault
9 &10 News (Northern Michigan)
Posted: Jul 20, 2017 11:01 AM EST Updated: Jul 20, 2017 9:19 PM EST
Northern Michigan’s News Leader
Jury finds Obwaka not guilty on CSC charges
Presque Isle County Advance
July 20, 2017 Editor
by Angie Asam–Staff Writer
A 12-member jury found the Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka not guilty on two charges of criminal sexual conduct (CSC) Thursday evening.
After listening to testimony Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday and most of the day Thursday the jury was sent to the jury room to deliberate shortly before 4 p.m. At 5:30 p.m. the jurors knocked on the door to let the court officer know they had reached a verdict.
Once in place the Honorable Scott L. Pavlich reviewed the verdict form before handing it back to the floor person to read the verdict. The prosecution was seeking charges of CSC first degree causing personal injury and CSC third degree using force or coercion.
The alleged incident occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 1 and was reported to the Michigan State Police Feb. 17. The charges stemmed from a sexual encounter with a male victim, 28. Both Obwaka and the victim are Catholic priests.
While the prosecution attempted to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Obwaka was guilty of the crimes the defense’s case centered around consensual sex between the two men. Both men testified about sexual acts that occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 1 in a guest bedroom at the St. Ignatius parish rectory in Rogers City.
The victim was visiting to celebrate a Mass and speak to the children of St. Ignatius Catholic School during Catholic Schools Week.
Obwaka was released from custody and all charges have been dropped.
More details on the trial will be posted here and appear in the next edition of the Presque Isle County Advance.
Second victim comes forward in Obwaka case
The Alpena News
“We have information of another victim in 2003,” Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Kwiatkowski said. “They’ve come forward and been contacted and have given a statement to police.”
The second victim was discussed during a bond hearing in 53rd Circuit Court, Monday.
Before the second victim was discussed the defense asked bond be set at $50,000 with a post of 10 percent.
Defense attorney Matt Wojda said Obwaka would give up his license, passport, Kenyan identification and keys to his car. Wojda then asked for Obwaka to have a tether.
“My client will be willing to provide the address of the apartment he will be living in that a friend has provided,” he said.
The prosecution then detailed why they wanted bond denied.
“We ask you may deny bond because he has been accused of a very serious felony,” Kwiatkowski said.
He said it also should be denied because during the preliminary examination in March, Judge Don McLennan determined “guilt was evident and the presumption great.”
Kwiatkowski talked about the second victim. This new allegation took the defense by surprise and it asked to take a moment to talk with Obwaka.
“This allegation is hitting us out of left field,” Wojda said. “We believe this allegation as nonsense and don’t want to go any further with it today.”
They still asked for bond, but decided Obwaka’s movement would be restricted only to the apartment he would live in.
Judge Scott Pavlich denied bond.
“There is a strong case against the defense,” Pavlich said. “It’s unusual because he’s a citizen of Kenya and I think the worry of flight risk is legitimate. A tether works to a degree, but that doesn’t stop someone from taking it off.”
Obwaka, who is on administrative leave from his duties as St. Ignatius’ priest, was charged on two counts of criminal sexual conduct Feb. 21. He was charged with a count of first degree criminal sexual conduct with personal injury, and third degree criminal sexual conduct force or coercion.
Trial dates have been scheduled for May 15-17.
Jordan Spence can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 358-5687.