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, 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 Walsh-Ochoa case.]

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 Diocese.

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 later.

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 to prosecute.

"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 public disclosure.

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, Lori A. Carter at 568-5312 or and Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or


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