Sonoma County DA to Review Bishop Allegations

CBS 5 [California]
August 25, 2006

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department said today that allegations that Santa Rosa Diocese Bishop Daniel Walsh failed to report alleged child abuse by a Sonoma priest within a time period mandated by state law is "worthy of district attorney review."

The sheriff's department issued that statement late this afternoon in response to media inquiries about a report published today in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

The article quoted sheriff's Sgt. Dennis O'Leary as saying, "We think we have a strong enough case here for charges to be filed." O'Leary also said the final decision rests with the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office.

"We didn't make a value judgment on what the district attorney's office should do in a complicated case like this," Lt. Dave Edmonds said at an interview this afternoon. "I don't know if Sgt. O'Leary said that or what the context was," Edmonds said.

Edmonds said in a press release, "It is the responsibility of the Sonoma County district attorney's office to determine if there is a provable statutory violation that has sufficient evidence and circumstances to sustain a conviction, and whether or not prosecution is appropriate."

The sheriff's department submitted its report on the investigation Thursday. Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook said Thursday she doesn't know how long it will take the district attorney's office to review the investigation.

Last month Cook said prosecution of Walsh and others in the Roman Catholic diocese depends on whether there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged failure to report Ochoa's alleged behavior was willful.

"As a member of the clergy, Bishop Walsh is considered a 'mandated reporter', per California Penal Code 11166. This statute requires mandated reporters to inform authorities as soon as practicably possible by telephone, and in written form within 36 hours," Edmonds said in the release.

Walsh has admitted he made a mistake by not reporting sooner Rev. Francisco Xavier Ochoa's admission on April 28 that he engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with a 12-year-old boy in his Sonoma parish apartment and with two other boys, now adults, in Cotati years ago.

Walsh relieved Ochoa, 67, of his duties as assistant pastor of St. Francis Solano Parish and Ochoa's alleged conduct was reported by fax by diocese's attorney Dan Galvin to the county's Child Protective Services on May 1. Ochoa disappeared around May 2 or 3 and is believed to be in Mexico. Critics charge the delay allowed Ochoa to escape prosecution.

The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office has charged Ochoa with 10 felony counts of committing lewd acts with a minor, including forcible sodomy and forcible oral copulation, and a misdemeanor charge. A warrant also was issued for Ochoa's arrest.

In a statement today, Walsh said, "The sheriff's report is in the hands of the district attorney. The Bishop and the Diocese have not received a copy of that report, so no comment can be made. However, the Bishop will abide by what ever decision the DA makes."

In response to the newspaper article, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said, "We are grateful that the sheriff's department understands the gravity of child sexual abuse and is recommending prosecution of Santa Rosa Catholic church officials for failing to report admitted child molestation by Fr. Ochoa.

"Refusing to prosecute Bishop Walsh, his lawyer, and the other four priests who knew or suspected Ochoa's abusive actions would send a terrible message to citizens and would lead to more recklessness and secrecy in the future."


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