Santa Rosa Bishop Stalls Abuse Report, Admits Error

CBS 5 [Santa Rosa CA]
August 12, 2006

Santa Rosa's Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Walsh admitted in a letter to Catholic parishioners today that he made a mistake by not immediately reporting Rev. Francisco Xavier Ochoa's admissions of sexual misconduct with three underage boys.

Ochoa, 67, the assistant pastor of St. Francis Solano Parish in Sonoma, admitted to Walsh on April 28 that he kissed a 12-year-old boy during a strip tease incident in his apartment earlier that month and that he had sexual contact with two other boys, now adults, years before.

Walsh suspended Ochoa that day but the diocese did not inform Sonoma County Child Protective Services about the incident until May 1. Ochoa disappeared after May 2 and is believed to be in Mexico.

The Sonoma County district attorney's office has charged Ochoa with 10 felony counts of committing lewd acts with underage boys. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department also is investigating whether Walsh and other priests who were aware of Ochoa's behavior broke state law by not reporting it immediately.

Sgt. Denis O'Leary said on Friday that the investigation had not been completed. He said the department has already interviewed Walsh.

In his letter, Walsh said, "I made an error in judgment by waiting to report Rev. Ochoa's admission. I should have acted immediately, and not delayed. For this I am deeply sorry.

"I did not wait in order to allow Rev. Ochoa time to escape, as some critics have claimed. I did not wait, as others have claimed, because of some desire to keep the abuse silent. I waited from an excess of caution. In attempting to consult first with our diocesan attorney, I made a mistake," Walsh said.

Walsh wrote at least six times that he made a mistake, but in a letter to parishioners before the Sheriff's Department's investigation of his conduct, he was less contrite.

On June 23, Walsh wrote, "At all times we have acted in good faith, and I believe with reasonable speed, to notify authorities of any information that we receive."

He also said the district attorney's office "confirmed publicly that the diocese came forward in a 'fairly expedient fashion"' regarding Ochoa's actions.

Walsh said in his most recent letter that he could face a misdemeanor charge punishable with a six-month jail term and $1,000 fine for failing to immediately report Ochoa's behavior.

"If I am found guilty for not taking immediate action, I will accept whatever punishment is imposed," Walsh said.

Walsh said he had two choices: "to remain cautious and avoid possible legal repercussions, or to acknowledge my error come what may."

"I will ensure that in the future, all mandated reporters in our church obey the law or be removed from service," Walsh said.

Under state law, teachers, clergy, child caregivers and others are required to "immediately or as soon as is practicably possible by telephone" report suspected child abuse or neglect.

But an outspoken critic of sexual misconduct within the church said the Bishop's apologies are merely an attempt to minimize the damage done in the Ochoa case.

Wayne Presley, a Foster City resident and a leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Walsh exposed countless other children to possible abuse by allowing Ochoa time to escape arrest.

"They may claim no ill intent," Presley said. "But the plain and simple truth is that, regardless of their intent, these men of God violated a clear and crucial California law."


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