Bulletin from the Diocese of Santa Rosa
"A Candid Message from Bishop Walsh"

The Press Democrat [Santa Rosa CA]
August 12, 2006

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When I came to the Diocese of Santa Rosa in 2000, it was beset with controversy over the misdeeds of my predecessor and those of a number of priests who put themselves above the people, the Church and the law.

In working to set our Church on the right path, I was guided by three central precepts: a need for honesty, for decisive action, and for steadfastly doing the right thing regardless of personal cost. Consistently following these precepts has aided me, and the faithful of this Diocese, to begin to overcome the past. With the Rev. Xavier Ochoa's admission of his deplorable acts, we have now taken a giant step backward towards our troubled past.

You, the parishioners and the priests of this diocese, have worked hard, made sacrifices, and prayed steadfastly for our healing and renewal. We have made great strides in dealing with and combating sexual abuse by church personnel. I cannot let this hard work be spoiled by the actions of one bad priest. And I will not allow my own error to interfere with the path we have taken, and on which we must remain, to create a church community in which we can take pride.

It is easy to be critical of others. It is harder to be critical of oneself. It is yet harder to publicly admit your own mistake. Yet, that is what I wish and need to do, in order to make amends to this diocese for my lack of speed in reporting the reprehensible behavior of the Rev. Ochoa, and to work toward restoring your confidence in my leadership as your bishop.

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. I failed to be guided by my own precepts for decisive action and for doing the right thing. I am deeply sorry for this, and for the tarnish it has placed on the reputation of the Church and the clergy, as well as for the questions it has raised regarding our credibility and the Church's policy of zero tolerance of sexual abuse.

The best way to renew the healing process and rebuild a spirit of understanding is to admit my own personal fault, and accept any consequences that may ensue.

As the District Attorney reviews the actions of all involved in this horrible situation, my admission of failing to report the case immediately could cause me to be charged with a misdemeanor having a potential penalty of 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. If I am found guilty for not taking immediate action, I will accept whatever punishment is imposed.

It was evident to me that my choice was two-fold: to remain cautious and avoid possible legal repercussions, or to acknowledge my error come what may. With this letter, I am choosing to step forward and admit my mistake because not to do so would only compound my original inaction and further tarnish all of our shared efforts over the past six years, in working to eradicate sexual abuse in the Church.

It is imperative that we restore faith in the clergy and the Church. That is my mission here, and I will not allow anything to sidetrack it, including my own failings. I can assure you that it is a mistake that I will not repeat. I will ensure that in the future, all mandated reporters in our Church obey the law or be removed from service.

Again, I ask your understanding, forgiveness and prayers as we continue to move forward in our fight against any further instances of clergy abuse, and in our efforts to keep our children and young people safe.


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