Clergy Abuse Victims Ask DA to Investigate Santa Rosa Diocese

CBS 5 [Santa Rosa BCN]
July 7, 2006

An organization of clergy abuse victims Thursday called upon Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua to prosecute the bishop and any priests and officials in the Diocese of Santa Rosa who did not immediately report alleged sexual misconduct by the Rev. Francisco Xavier Ochoa.

The district attorney's office has filed 10 felony and one misdemeanor charge against Ochoa for alleged sexual offenses against three underage boys between 1988 and last April.

Ochoa, 67, the assistant pastor of St. Francis Solano Parish in Sonoma, admitted the most recent offense against a 12-year-old boy and two other offenses years before to Bishop Daniel Walsh and other priests on April 28, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department. Ochoa disappeared on May 1 and is believed to be in Mexico.

Walsh suspended Ochoa on April 28 but diocese attorney Dan Galvin did not report the alleged offenses to the county's child protective services agency until Monday May 1. Galvin has said he did not believe the agency was open on a Saturday.

State law requires priests, nurses, teachers and other caregivers to report suspected child abuse "immediately or as soon as practicably possible by telephone."

"There are two crimes here: the sexual abuse of children and the cover up of abuse and aiding and abetting. At least five church officials knew about Ochoa's crimes," said Mary Grant, western regional director of SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

"What good is a law that's not enforced? Their obligation is to the law, not the church," Grant said. She said church officials helped Ochoa "escape justice" by not immediately reporting the alleged abuses.

The organization held a news conference at the Sonoma County Courthouse before delivering a letter to the district attorney's office Thursday afternoon.

Cynthia Vrooman, of the North Bay Voice of the Faithful, said 60 parishioners have signed a letter to Walsh asking him to follow the diocese's policy and state law about immediately reporting sexual abuse.

"We're shocked. We are grieving. The diocese is back in a state of grieving," Vrooman said.

Attorney Michael Fiumara, who represents Ochoa's alleged victims, said there may be as many as 10 victims who "are very afraid."

Walsh is on vacation until August, diocese spokeswoman Dierdre Frontczak said Thursday afternoon. She said the diocese had no further comment other than "the district attorney's office's statement it had no intention to prosecute anyone" regarding the delay in reporting the allegations against Ochoa. Galvin did not immediately return calls for comment.

SNAP also took issue with the district attorney's office.

"We are also upset by assistant District Attorney Larry Scoufos' public statement that charges against diocesan staff for failing to report are 'highly unlikely,"' Grant said. She said such conjecture is hurtful, not helpful, and could discourage others from providing information.

Both Scoufos and Passalacqua are on vacation. Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook told SNAP members who presented their letter in the office's lobby that she is not aware of any pending investigation regarding the failure of anyone to report Ochoa's alleged offenses in a timely manner.

"That case is not before us," Cook said.

She said the office receives dozens of letters each day and handles each one a case-by-case basis. Cook said the sheriff's office is conducting the investigation and identifying alleged victims and she urged anyone with information to come forward.

She said any prosecution for not reporting the alleged sexual abuse depends on whether there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the failure to report was willful.


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