Keep the Faith, but Press Charges

Times-Standard [Santa Rosa CA]
August 16, 2006

As you may have read, Bishop Daniel F. Walsh of the Santa Rosa diocese has apologized for waiting days to notify authorities about sexual abuse allegations against a priest, who then fled to Mexico.

According to reports, Walsh -- whose diocese includes the North Coast -- admitted to putting "caution" before "doing the right thing" in handling the allegations against priest Xavier Ochoa. Church officials say Ochoa admitted April 28 to sexually abusing a 12-year-old altar boy, but the allegations were not reported to Child Protective Services until May 1. Ochoa disappeared the next day.

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

So, we imagine, are the 12-year-old, his family, friends and an angry community.

Ochoa, 68, was charged June 22 with 10 felony counts and one misdemeanor count of child sex abuse involving three alleged victims. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Walsh, as noted by two outraged Times-Standard readers in a recent guest editorial, called his diocese attorney before calling authorities. Now, the bishop says he is willing to accept any punishment for his actions in violating state mandatory reporting laws for suspected child sexual abuse.

Good. Let's oblige him.

He could -- and should -- face at least a misdemeanor charge with the potential of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua is still reviewing the case, according to a statement from his office, and an investigation is pending.

Walsh has already admitted wrongdoing, so the investigation should be speedy. We urge the Sonoma DA to charge Walsh to the full extent of the law, and if convicted, Walsh should pay the fine and serve a jail sentence.

There's a time for heartfelt apologies to be met with Christian charity. This is not one of them. When such charity butts up against protecting our children, the rights of kids should win out, every time.

This community, and millions of God-fearing and secular people across the country, are sick and tired of official church apologies after priestly preying on our children. Often, those apologies have followed the inexcusable re-assigning of priests, who then prey on unsuspecting new communities.

To our knowledge, this type of abuse has been going on for years -- centuries, probably -- and it must stop. Let that ending begin here on the North Coast, and now.

Walsh, if convicted of what he's already admitted to, should pay the fine, serve time -- and resign in disgrace from his position. If he doesn't resign, the Catholic Church should throw him out.

After years of such abuse, and criminal convictions, and apologies, and counseling, and hand-wringing, and gnashing of teeth -- and broken young lives -- there's absolutely no excuse for failing to act in a case like this.

How long must we keep turning our children's other cheeks to be slapped over and over by the scourge of this type of abuse? How long must the faith, goodwill and caring of the vast majority of priests and millions of good Catholics nationwide be stained by the dark actions -- or inaction -- of a few?

Father Ochoa is likely in his own kind of spiritual hell. Hopefully, he'll be quickly found, tried and, if found guilty, punished in this earthly realm, too.

Sadly, Bishop Walsh made a cardinal error in judgment. But one good thing can come of it, if we as a society -- and the church that serves it -- makes a harsh example within the law of the absolute need to put our children first, and protect them always.

Let's pray it happens soon.


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