Diocese Acknowledges 1971 Abuse Allegations

CBS 5 [Santa Rosa BCN]
July 21, 2006

The Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa on Thursday acknowledged there were allegations of sexual abuse by a now-deceased priest while he was a teacher at a high school in the Oakland diocese in 1971.

The diocese said it learned from the alleged victim in April 2002 that Rev. Donald Eagleson committed the offense before his ordination and while he was a Holy Cross Brother who taught at Moreau High School in the Diocese of Oakland.

The diocese's statement said Bishop Daniel Walsh immediately responded to the victim when the diocese learned of the allegation and also informed the Sensitive Issues Committee.

The diocese said Walsh also notified the Diocese of Oakland and the Holy Cross Order and the diocese's attorney reported the allegations against Eagleson to the Sonoma County district attorney's office in June 2002.

The diocese said the allegations did not fall within the mandatory reporting laws that require clergy, healthcare workers, teachers and others to report suspected sexual abuse against minors.

Walsh also directed Rev. Eagleson to not function as a priest in April 2002, the diocese said. Eagleson was pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Eureka at the time.

The diocese said Walsh received a second letter from the alleged victim in November 2002 and that Walsh wrote to him in December 2002 to inform him of Eagleson's grave medical condition and that Eagleson had been placed on administrative leave.

Eagleson was taken to Nazareth House in San Rafael, a retirement home, in September 2003 and died in October 2004, diocese spokeswoman Deirdre Frontczak said this afternoon.

She said David Dutra sent the letter with the allegations to Walsh from prison where he is serving a term for the murder of his wife in 1983. She said Dutra's civil suit was one of 56 against the Oakland diocese that was settled.

Eagleson was a pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Eureka between 1990 and 2002. He had also served as a deacon at St. Joseph parish in Crescent City, as associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul in Petaluma, at St. Mary's parish in Arcata and St. Bernard's parish in Eureka.

Frontczak said after Eagleson's death, Walsh informed the clergy in Humboldt and Del Norte counties of the allegations against Eagleson "so they would not be caught off guard" if other allegations against Eagleson surfaced.

Frontczak said Walsh did not inform the entire diocese about Eagleson because the allegations involved a priest who was now dead, there was only one alleged victim who was now an adult, and the alleged offenses were committed in a different diocese.

Frontczak said in the spring of 2002, the Catholic dioceses in the country were focused on removing clergy in the ministry who were suspected of child sexual abuse.

Walsh has been criticized for not identifying priests accused of sexual misconduct of minors. Frontczak said Walsh believes many of those cases involve deceased or incapacitated clergy, witnesses or victims, and past allegations beyond the statute of limitations.

Rev. Francisco Xavier Ochoa, 67, assistant pastor of the St. Francis Solano parish in Sonoma, has been charged with 10 felony counts of lewd acts with three underage boys between 1988 and last April.

He is believed to be in Mexico and the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department is investigating whether diocese officials delayed reporting the alleged sexual abuse of a 12-year-old boy in April until three days after they learned of it - violating state law which requires immediate notification to authorities. Critics of the diocese said that delay allowed Ochoa to leave the country to avoid prosecution.

In a letter to parishioners on June 23, Walsh said the county district attorney's office confirmed the diocese came forward in a "fairly expedient fashion" and that the diocese "acted in good faith and with reasonable speed."

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, criticized the diocese's delay in reporting the allegations against Ochoa and called on the district attorney's office to investigate. SNAP said it welcomed the investigation in the Ochoa case and hopes current and former church employees "find the courage to speak up."


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