Santa Rose Bishop Releases Statement Regarding Recent Priest Abuse

CBS 5 [Santa Rosa CA]
June 24, 2006

Santa Rosa Diocese Bishop Daniel Walsh released a statement today in response to an arrest warrant issued Thursday for Sonoma County priest Rev. Francisco Xavier Ochoa, who is alleged to have committed lewd acts against three underage boys.

Walsh defended his Diocese against allegations that the church may have delayed reporting the abuse.

The complaint against Ochoa, 67, alleges 10 felony offenses and one misdemeanor offense, including forcible sodomy and forcible oral copulation, against three alleged victims between 1988 and the present. Ochoa is believed to have fled to Mexico May 4.

Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said Ochoa faces life in prison if convicted of the offenses against two or more victims.

Ochoa is the 17th priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa to be accused of sexual abuse.

In his statement today, Walsh said that he maintains a zero tolerance policy regarding child sexual abuse and that he had no previous knowledge of the allegations against Ochoa.

"Contrary to some media reports, I assure you that neither I nor any member of the Chancery staff had any prior knowledge of this or any previous incidents involving Fr. Ochoa," Walsh said in a written statement.

As soon as Ochoa admitted to the abuse, Walsh wrote that he placed him on administrative leave and removed his ability to function as a priest. He also said that the Diocese has fully cooperated with Sonoma County Sheriff's Department investigators.

In addition, he said he has contacted the Bishop of Tijuana and the Cardinal of Guadalajara to make them aware of Ochoa's status and possible presence in their area.

Two of the alleged victims are now adults but were minors at the time of the alleged assaults between 11 and 15 years ago and the third victim was 12 when he was allegedly assaulted in April, the Sheriff's Department reported.

Ochoa admitted the most recent alleged sexual assault at a meeting with Walsh and other priests on April 28 and Ochoa was relieved of his duties, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department. Ochoa then left for Mexico and arrived by May 4.

The allegations against him are contained in a statement of probable cause filed by the sheriff's department in Sonoma County Superior Court on June 9.

In the statement, Walsh told a detective Ochoa told him on April 28 that the incident with the boy in April happened on a Sunday afternoon after the Spanish mass at St. Francis Solano Church in Sonoma.

The boy went to Ochoa's residence and reportedly began dancing and strip teasing in front of Ochoa while they were listening to rap music. Ochoa offered the boy $100 to finish the strip tease and the boy removed all his clothing, Walsh told the detective.

Ochoa said he offered the money as a joke and never paid the boy. He said he realized he had crossed boundaries, had the boy dress and sent him home.

Walsh said Ochoa said he informed the boy's parents about the incident and they thought the boy was silly and laughed about the incident. The probable cause statement says Ochoa denied touching the boy but admitted kissing him three times on the lips before the strip tease.

Ochoa also told Walsh that when he was stationed in Napa, he kissed an altar boy and gave him money and that when he was working in Mexico, "he had a problem with a boy," according to the statement.

The boy in the April incident told a special interviewer at the Redwood Children's Center that Ochoa was the godfather of his 5-month-old brother. He said while he was taking off his clothes Ochoa sat on a bed and threw marshmallows at him. The boy said after he had taken off all his clothes Ochoa told him to get dressed and sent him home.

The boy said it was his idea to strip tease and dance and Ochoa never touched him but kissed him once on the forehead and cheek and possibly twice on the mouth. He said it was the first time he took off his clothes in front of Ochoa.

Detectives went to Ochoa's apartment on May 4 but all the priest's clothing was gone and it appeared Ochoa left the keys as if he were returning them, according to the statement.

Another parish priest told the detectives that on May 3 Ochoa called to tell him he was in San Diego because he was tired and scared about the incident. Ochoa agreed to rest and return to Sonoma, the priest said, but on May 4 Ochoa left another priest a phone message that he was in a hospital in Tijuana.

The second alleged victim, now 27, told authorities he was an altar boy in Cotati when he was 14 and that Ochoa showed him pornographic videos and movies, some of which were gay pornographic videos. He also said Ochoa taught him how to masturbate and that he masturbated him five times when he was 14 and 16. The boy said he also saw Ochoa French kissing another underage boy.

The third alleged victim said his family knew Ochoa in Mexico. He said Ochoa began to sexually molest him when he was 14 and that when he was 15 Ochoa brought him to Cotati where the molestations continued.

Dan Galvin, the attorney for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa, faxed a letter on May 1 to the Sonoma County Child Protective Services regarding possible abuse by Ochoa. Sonoma County authorities began investigating the allegations on May 3. Ochoa was by this time heading for Mexico.

Sgt. Dennis O'Leary said the delay in reporting Ochoa's behavior didn't necessarily prevent Ochoa from being arrested before he fled.

"We would have liked to talk to him sooner. Would it have prevented him from leaving? I can't say. We would still have to investigate and build a case," O'Leary said.

The state's Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act requires priests, child and medical care workers and others to notify authorities about known or suspected child abuse immediately or as soon as possible by phone. A written report is required within 36 hours.

O'Leary said anyone with information regarding possible sexual offenses by Ochoa is asked to call the sheriff's department at (707) 565-7600.


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