Abuse Victims Speak Out

Press Democrat
July 6, 2006

A group of sexual abuse victims Thursday urged Sonoma County prosecutors to “seriously consider filing charges” against four Catholic diocese officials whose delay in reporting sexual abuse by a priest may have allowed him to flee to Mexico.

Standing on the courthouse steps, members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, implored District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua to investigate why it took Santa Rosa Diocese officials four days to report to authorities admitted sexual misconduct by fugitive Sonoma priest Xavier Ochoa.

After his admissions Ochoa, 67, is believed to have fled to Mexico. A no-bail warrant has been issued for his arrest on 10 felony child-sexual abuse charges involving three victims.

State law requires certain people — including doctors, nurses, teachers and clergy members — to report child sexual abuse immediately by phone and to provide a written report within three days.

Bishop Daniel Walsh told parishioners in a letter that he was first advised of a “sensitive” matter involving Ochoa on April 28, as relayed by the Rev. Frank Epperson. Epperson had called the Rev. Daniel Whelton at the diocese office, who arranged a meeting the next day with Ochoa, Epperson, Bishop Daniel Walsh and Msgr. James Pulskamp.

Diocese attorney Dan Galvin three days later, May 1, first reported the incidents to authorities. By the time detectives began looking for Ochoa on May 4, the priest had placed his possessions in storage and apparently left town.

Diocese officials did not immediately return telephone calls for comment Thursday afternoon.

SNAP spokeswoman Mary Grant called for Passalacqua to enforce the mandatory reporting law.

“We’re here to beg him to make more aggressive efforts to prosecute this admitted child molester and church officials who knew what happened and failed to ... follow the law and call police,” she said.

Ochoa’s “escape from justice may have been helped by five or more church employees,” she said.

Members of the group then delivered a letter outlining their concerns to Passalacqua’s secretary and spoke in the lobby with Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook. Passalacqua is on vacation.

Cook told them there is no current investigation regarding the church officials’ delay in reporting the abuse. She said before her office would take the case to a jury, investigators would need evidence of a “willful violation” of the law.

“While it may have been late, there was a report,” she said.

(Lori A. Carter 568-5312


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