Bishop Won't Face Charges over Late Report of Abuse
Accused Priest Fled during Cleric's Delay

By Kim Curtis
Associated Press, carried in Mercury News [California]
November 21, 2006

Santa Rosa Bishop Daniel Walsh will not face criminal charges for failing to report child abuse allegations if he completes four months of counseling, the Sonoma County district attorney said Monday.

Walsh admitted wrongdoing in order to be eligible for the so-called diversion program that will help him avoid misdemeanor charges, District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said.

In August, sheriff's department investigators said they had enough evidence to pursue a criminal case against Walsh for failing to quickly report abuse by the Rev. Xavier Ochoa, who fled to Mexico before authorities could arrest him.

Ochoa, 68, worked at St. Francis Solano Church in Sonoma before admitting misconduct during a meeting April 28 with Walsh and two other church officials.

Nearly 24 hours later, Walsh made his first call on the matter to diocesan lawyer Dan Galvin. Unaware that Child Protective Services had a 24-hour hot line, Galvin had his secretary call the agency Monday. The secretary learned the report should have been filed at the sheriff's office. Walsh spoke with investigators for the first time Wednesday, May 2, five days after learning of the abuse.

Deputies said the delay helped Ochoa escape.

Walsh has publicly apologized for failing to report the alleged misconduct immediately. He also said it was a mistake to call his lawyer first.

"I should have acted immediately, and not delayed," Walsh said in a letter of apology that followed two months later. He also said he would "accept whatever punishment is imposed."

During an interview with the Associated Press, Walsh called Ochoa an "unsympathetic character" whom he immediately stripped of his duties as a priest.

Ochoa is wanted on 10 felony counts and one misdemeanor count of child sex abuse involving three boys.

State law requires clergymen to immediately report suspicion of child sex abuse and to follow up by fax or e-mail within 36 hours. A violation has a potential penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Passalacqua said Walsh could participate in the Adult Diversion Services program.

"Bishop Walsh admitted wrongdoing, has no prior record, and is eligible to enroll in this program," Passalacqua said in a release.

If Walsh successfully completes the counseling program, no formal criminal charge will be filed, he said.

A message left for a diocese spokeswoman was not immediately returned.

No U.S. bishop has ever been criminally charged for failing to disclose allegations of abuse, and a group representing victims of clergy abuse criticized the district attorney for giving Walsh the option to escape prosecution.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said Passalacqua was "a cowardly politician instead of a courageous advocate. He had a chance to show that putting children in harm's way is wrong."


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