Bishop to Break Silence on Ochoa Case
Walsh to Issue Statement on His Role in Reporting Sex Abuse Evidence to Authorities
By Martin Espinoza
The Press Democrat
August 12, 2006
Catholic Bishop Daniel Walsh today will end nearly two months of silence on fugitive priest Xavier Ochoa by issuing a statement about his own role in reporting evidence of child sex abuse.
The statement comes as Sonoma County Sheriff's detectives are completing a criminal investigation into whether the church's delay in reporting evidence of child abuse violated state law.
The Santa Rosa diocese on Friday would not release the contents of the statement until after parishioners have a chance to read it. The statement will be sent to all parishes and included in weekend bulletins.
Church spokeswoman Deirdre Frontzak said only that it was a "statement concerning (Walsh's) reporting in the Ochoa matter."
Frontzak said Walsh was not planning to read the statement himself this weekend. She said it would be available to the public at 6 p.m. today.
Walsh has come under harsh public criticism for his handling of sex abuse allegations involving Ochoa, who ministered to Spanish-speaking parishioners at St. Francis Solano Church in Sonoma.
The bishop has not spoken publicly about the Ochoa case or his handling of it, refusing to answer questions from reporters. In a June 26 letter to parishioners, he wrote that, "At all times we have acted in good faith, and I believe with reasonable speed, to notify the authorities of any information we receive."
Subsequently, however, District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua directed the sheriff's office to open a specific investigation into whether Walsh and others violated reporting laws.
The trouble for the bishop began when Ochoa admitted to Walsh and other church officials that he had had inappropriate contact with several boys, including kissing them on the mouth and encouraging one to do a strip tease for him.
The admission was made April 28, but it wasn't until three days later that church officials reported Ochoa - by fax - to Child Protective Services. The Sheriff's Department wasn't notified until four days later, again by fax.
State law requires priests and certain others to report abuse suspicions "immediately or as soon as practicably possible" by telephone and follow up in writing within 36 hours.
Critics say the delay may have given Ochoa the chance to flee. He is believed to be in Mexico.
Further investigation by sheriff's detectives revealed more allegations against Ochoa, who now is wanted on 10 felony counts and one misdemeanor count of child sex abuse involving three males over a period of at least 15 years. The charges include lewd acts with a child, forcible sodomy and oral copulation.
Frontzak, the diocese spokeswoman, said each parish can decide how to deliver the bishop's statement. It will be available in printed form and could also be read from the pulpit.
Monsignor James Pulskamp, pastor at St. Eugene's Cathedral in Santa Rosa and one of those present when Ochoa made his admissions, said Friday he had only glanced at the bishop's statement and that it would not be read aloud at the cathedral.
Pulskamp is one of the church officials questioned as part of the criminal inquiry.
Sgt. Dennis O'Leary of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department said Friday that the investigation into whether Walsh and others violated state mandatory reporting laws was almost complete. The offense is a misdemeanor punishable by fine and a jail term of up to six months.
Passalacqua, the district attorney, ordered the investigation after receiving an initial crime report that led to the felony charges against Ochoa.
As a result, sheriff's detectives recently conducted secondary interviews with church officials, including Walsh.
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