Santa Rosa Bishop Returns to Parish after Avoiding Charges

San Francisco Chronicle [California]
December 10, 2006

(12-10) 22:02 PST Sonoma, Calif. (AP) --A Roman Catholic bishop once threatened with criminal charges for failing to report child abuse allegations returned to lead Mass in the accused priest's parish for the first time since the scandal erupted in May.

Most Rev. Daniel Walsh, bishop of Santa Rosa, asked St. Francis Solano Church parishioners for forgiveness Saturday for not telling authorities sooner about the alleged misconduct of Rev. Xavier Ochoa, a one-time priest at the church who fled to Mexico before he could be arrested.

"The time comes when you have to start the healing process," Walsh said after the service.

Ochoa, 68, admitted his misconduct during an April meeting with Walsh and two other church officials, but Walsh said nothing to investigators until five days after the meeting.

Sheriff's deputies said the delay helped Ochoa escape. The fugitive priest 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.

Walsh avoided charges by agreeing last month to participate in a four-month counseling program.


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