Bishop Explains Delay in Reporting Abuse

By Kim Curtis
The Associated Press, carried in Contra Costa Times
August 16, 2006

Santa Rosa - A Roman Catholic bishop who could be the first criminally charged for failing to promptly report sexual abuse said Tuesday that he never tried to protect a fellow priest who is believed to have fled to Mexico.

Bishop Daniel Walsh called the Rev. Xavier Ochoa an "unsympathetic character," whom he immediately stripped of his duties as a priest when Ochoa admitted three incidents of abuse.

"If something wrong has been done, I have no problem doing the right thing," Walsh told the Associated Press during an interview Tuesday at his diocesan office. "I have no problem turning him in."

Investigators are looking into whether Walsh failed to promptly report the abuse after he placed Ochoa on leave April 28. Walsh didn't share what he learned with anyone until phoning his lawyer the following day, a Saturday.

Attorney Dan Galvin waited until May 1 to call authorities at Child Protective Services, who advised him the following day to notify the Sonoma County sheriff's office.

The report was faxed to law enforcement May 2, according to Walsh, but it was lost. A second report was sent the following day when Walsh first spoke with an investigator. By then, Ochoa was gone.

At the time, Walsh defended his actions, saying he acted in "good faith" and with "reasonable speed."

Critics were outraged, accusing Walsh of maintaining the secrecy that allowed abuse by priests to flourish for generations. The bishop said he received angry letters and phone calls. He even spent about 20 minutes reading complaints about his handling of the Ochoa case on the Internet.

Last weekend, he issued an apology to the diocese, which stretches all the way to Oregon, saying he made an error in judgment.

Walsh, who said he wrote the letter with the help of a consultant paid for by a friend, acknowledged he should have directly and immediately notified protective services or law enforcement. But he called the law "not precise."

"The reading of my motives have been so wrong -- that I waited so he could escape, that I was covering up," he said. "The delay was not premeditated. It was a human mistake. ... I don't deal with this every day."

State law requires priests and others to report child sexual abuse "immediately or as soon as practicably possible."

Failure to do so is a misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. And the diocese's own policy reiterates the same reporting obligations.

To David Clohessy, the director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, Walsh's apology means little.

"The law is crystal clear," he said. "The prosecution of a complicit bishop is the only real, potentially effective step that has yet to be tried."

No church official has been criminally prosecuted for failing to properly report child sexual abuse. But recent incidents show some dioceses still maintain the status quo.

Last year, the Archdiocese of Chicago hired independent investigators to learn why it failed to follow its own child protection plan and allowed the Rev. Daniel McCormack to stay in ministry for several months after he was accused of abuse.

The March audit found a widespread breakdown in communication that put young people at risk.

And in Arizona, a priest indicted in 2003 on 13 counts of child molestation while working in a Phoenix parish escaped prosecution by seeking shelter in the Rome headquarters of his religious order, the Salvatorians.

An Italian court last month ordered that he be extradited, but he fled days after the ruling.

A Sonoma sheriff's department spokesman said Monday that the investigation into whether Walsh committed a crime should be finished by the end of next week.

Ochoa, the fugitive priest, is wanted on 10 felony counts, including lewd acts with a child, forcible sodomy and oral copulation.

A lawyer representing Ochoa's alleged victims said he molested as many as nine boys. Sonoma County investigators say only three victims have come forward. They have since sued the diocese.

Authorities believe Ochoa fled to Mexico, his native country.


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