San Diego

Former Encinitas Priest Accused of ‘Aggressive' Advances Towards 3 Women

At least three women have come forward to accuse a former pastor at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Encinitas of "aggressive" advances during his three years at the parish, according to the Catholic Diocese of San Diego. 

Ben Vincent Awongo, 55, a Uganda native who has been serving as a visiting priest at the location since 2015, was fired from St. John's on Sept. 1 after the second allegation surfaced, according to diocese spokesperson Kevin Eckery. 

Parishioners learned of the allegations against the former associate priest on Sunday in a bulletin from the church's pastor, Father James Bahash. A diocese review board decided to alert the public after a third woman made a claim of inappropriate behavior, Eckery said. 

Awongo graduated from seminary school in 1990 and served in the San Diego Catholic Diocese under three parishes: at St. Francis of Assisi in Vista, a parish in El Centro and St. John's. 

The church did not detail the accusations made against Awongo, but Father Bahash called them, "terrible and shocking," in his letter to parishioners. 

In the same bulletin, Bishop Robert McElroy called the advances towards several adult women, "aggressive." 

"One of the great sadness's for a bishop and for the Catholic community as a whole occurs when a priest has grievously failed the flock entrusted to his care," McElroy wrote. 

Read the entire bulletin from the diocese, here

Awongo works for a religious order in Pennsylvania and Africa and not directly for the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, according to the organization.

The allegations against the priest were reported to his superior, Father Bahash said. 

"His superior has been given the reports compiled by the Diocese and will decide on the appropriate responses and/or investigations," he said. 

Bishop McElroy urged anyone with information about mistreatment from Awongo to call the diocese at (858) 490-8353. 

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