Sheriff's Office: Strong Case against Walsh
Criminal Charges May Be Filed against SR Bishop for Failing to Report
Suspected Sex Abuse
By Martin Espinoza firstname.lastname@example.org,
Lori A. Carter and Mary Callahan
The Press-Democrat [Santa Rosa CA]
August 25, 2006
[See also a collection of Press Democrat articles on the
Sonoma County sheriff's deputies believe there is enough evidence to bring
criminal charges against Santa Rosa Bishop Daniel Walsh for failing to
immediately report suspected child sex abuse by a Sonoma priest.
A report was presented to prosecutors Thursday, four months after detectives
began an investigation of the Rev. Xavier Ochoa and 12 days after Walsh
publicly apologized for failing to abide by the state's mandatory reporting
law for suspected child abuse.
"We think we have a strong enough case here for charges to be filed,"
Sheriff's Sgt. Dennis O'Leary said, adding, however, that the final decision
rests with the District Attorney's Office.
"Sometimes they agree, and sometimes they don't," he said.
Walsh was unavailable for comment, said a spokeswoman for the Santa Rosa
If charges are filed, it is believed Walsh would be the highest-ranking
official to face criminal penalties stemming from the sex scandal that
has embroiled the Roman Catholic church for more than a decade.
The investigative report wasn't made public and O'Leary wouldn't discuss
specifics. But he said it contains details of Ochoa's admissions to Walsh
and other church officials and how they reacted.
"Everybody was interviewed as to when they were told, what had occurred
and who they told," O'Leary said.
Ochoa, 68, worked at St. Francis Solano Church in Sonoma, where he ministered
to Latino parishioners before admitting misconduct in an April 28 meeting
with Walsh and two other church officials.
Ochoa subsequently was charged with 10 felony counts and one misdemeanor
count of child sex abuse involving three alleged victims.
But three days passed between the April 28 meeting and the church's report
to authorities. Ochoa is believed to have fled the country a few days
State law requires clergymen, among others, to immediately report any
suspicions of child sex abuse and to follow up by fax or e-mail within
36 hours. A violation is a misdemeanor and has a potential penalty of
six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The decision about pursuing criminal charges against the bishop rests
with District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua.
Calls to Passalacqua were referred to Assistant District Attorney Christine
Cook, who said there was no way to know how long it would take to determine
if any church officials would be prosecuted.
Cook said a finding of willful violation of the law would be required
"We'd have to feel like we can prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt
before we file charges," she said.
Those who learned about Ochoa's admission before the diocese notified
the Sheriff's Department include the Revs. Michael Kelly and Frank Epperson,
both of St. Francis Solano Church; Monsignor James Pulskamp, the diocese
vicar general; and the Rev. Daniel Whelton.
Ochoa approached Epperson on April 27 and asked that he help him arrange
a meeting with the bishop and act as his interpreter. According to the
diocese's account, Walsh received a voice message from Whelton later that
evening about a "sensitive matter" involving Ochoa.
Whelton arranged the April 28 meeting, which was attended by Ochoa, Epperson,
Walsh and Pulskamp. At the meeting, Ochoa said he'd had inappropriate
contact with children, offering one boy $100 to strip dance in front of
him and kissing two other boys on the lips.
The criminal charges involve more serious conduct, including allegations
of forcible sodomy.
On May 1, three days after the meeting, the diocese's lawyer faxed a letter
to the county's Child Protective Services, according to information from
Walsh. The attorney sent the report by fax to the Sheriff's Department
on May 2.
Critics say the delay may have allowed Ochoa to flee the country. He is
believed to be in Mexico.
Walsh since has publicly apologized for the delay and said he would accept
any punishment if it is found he violated the law.
Asked if Walsh's admission would have any bearing on the decision to prosecute,
Cook refused to comment.
The Sheriff's Department refused to release the crime report to the public,
citing a section of state law that exempts criminal investigations from
O'Leary said a redacted version might be available once the district attorney
decides whether to prosecute.
You can reach Staff Writers Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or email@example.com,
Lori A. Carter at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org
and Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or email@example.com.