Diocese of Gaylord Issues Statement on Priest Charged with Sex Crimes
Reverend Sylvestre Obwaka was the priest at Saint Ignatius church in Rogers City.
He was arraigned on 1st and 3rd degree sex crimes Tuesday.
The Diocese of Gaylord suspended him while the case works its way through court.
Bishop Steven Raica says this is an incredibly sad situation for everyone involved and they’re now focusing on helping the parish community heal and move forward.
“Whenever anyone is harmed, or accused of harming another, the entire faith community is shaken,” said Raica.
Bishop Raica says the last few days have been difficult for parishioners in Rogers City and the Diocese of Gaylord. After Fr. Obwaka’s arrest, Bishop Raica placed him on administrative leave. He’s also prohibited from performing public ministry.
“I am heartbroken over the events that have unfolded over the recent days. Our faith calls us to ensure the dignity of each human person is upheld in each circumstance,” said Raica.
Fr. Obwaka was accepted to the Diocese as a seminarian back in 2004. He was ordained in 2010 and served in Manistee before being assigned to St. Ignatius in Rogers City.
“We must respond with compassion when anyone is harmed. We must also remember in our system of justice, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. We are focused on providing pastoral care to those affected in this very sad situation,” said Raica.
Bishop Raica says he has met with leaders at St. Ignatius and appointed a priest as to work with the parish.
“These are difficult days, and in these moments, we must turn to Christ who always walks with us and accompanies us in our pain. I ask for your prayers for all those affected by this situation,” said Raica.
You can read the full statement below:
This morning Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka, former Pastor of St. Ignatius Parish in Rogers City, Michigan, was arraigned on charges of criminal sexual conduct. This matter does not involve a minor, but is an issue between two individual adults and not against the Diocese of Gaylord. Local civil authorities are conducting the investigation and the diocese has pledged its full cooperation.
Following Rev. Obwaka’s arrest on Saturday, Bishop Steven J. Raica placed him on an administrative leave pending resolution of the case. During this time, Rev. Obwaka is also prohibited from exercising any public ministry.
Rev. Obwaka, 44, is a native of Kenya and is a permanent legal resident of the United States. He was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Gaylord in 2004 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2010. Following his ordination he was assigned as Parochial Vicar to the Catholic Community of Manistee (now known as Divine Mercy parish), and in 2013 was appointed Pastor of St. Ignatius Parish in Rogers City.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened by this situation,” stated Candace Neff, diocesan Director of Communications. “There is a great deal of hurt and confusion right now. We are focused on providing pastoral support to all those affected and are working closely with St. Ignatius parishioners as they continue their ministries both within their parish and in the wider community,” she said.
To that end, Bishop Raica and a team from the Diocese of Gaylord met with parish leadership and parishioners on Sunday to pray with them, share information and to listen to concerns in order to begin to chart a path forward. At that time the bishop announced he had appointed Rev. Joseph Muszkiewicz, who also serves as Pastor to All Saints Parish in Alpena and Vicar for the region, as temporary administrator for St. Ignatius parish. Rev. Muszkiewicz, in collaboration with parish staff and leadership, will oversee the day-to-day operations of the parish for the immediate future.
“I am heartbroken over the events that have unfolded in recent days,” Bishop Raica said. “Our faith calls us to ensure the dignity of each human person is upheld in every circumstance. We must respond with compassion when anyone is harmed. We must also remember that in our system of justice, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” he noted. “It is very early in this process and while the matter is in the civil courts we will need to wait patiently for the outcome.”
“These are difficult days,” Bishop Raica concluded. “In these moments, we must turn to Christ who always walks with us and accompanies us in our pain. I ask for your prayers for all those affected by this situation.”
In order to maintain the integrity of the investigation and to protect the rights of everyone involved, neither the Diocese of Gaylord nor leadership of St. Ignatius Parish will be making any further comments regarding this case at this time.
The Diocese of Gaylord has policies 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 distance past, to report the matter to civil authorities or to the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator Larry LaCross at 989.705.9010.
The Diocese of Gaylord encompasses the 21 most northern counties of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Within its territory are 75 parishes and 18 Catholic schools.