Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese Settles Abuse Case for $5 Million

By Henry K. Lee
San Francisco Chronicle
September 13, 2007

The Santa Rosa Roman Catholic Diocese has agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle a sexual-abuse lawsuit involving a fugitive priest, and $20,000 will be paid by Bishop Daniel Walsh personally, a diocesan attorney said Wednesday.

The diocese will pay the settlement to 10 people, with the help of its insurance carrier and proceeds from a real-estate sale.

The money will settle a lawsuit that targeted the Rev. Francisco Ochoa-Perez, said Dan Galvin, an attorney for the diocese.

Walsh will pay an additional $20,000 from his ministerial stipends, which include funds he receives for officiating at weddings and baptisms, Galvin said.

"I think it shows the commitment the bishop had to making sure the case settled," Galvin said. "He was prepared to put some of his own money on the table in order to get the case resolved."

Michael Meadows, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called the settlement "fair and reasonable. Our clients are satisfied."

Michael Fiumara, another attorney for the plaintiffs, said Walsh's offer to pay $20,000 was "an act of redemption for the bishop as well as a publicity maneuver."

The settlement was reached Aug. 27 after mediation talks. Over the past 10 years, the Santa Rosa Diocese has paid nearly $20 million to settle sex-abuse lawsuits.

Ochoa-Perez, who is also known as Francisco Xavier Ochoa, is believed to have fled to Mexico in May 2006. He is sought on a no-bail federal arrest warrant alleging unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on 10 felonies, including lewd acts with a child, forcible sodomy and oral copulation.

The lawsuit accused the diocese of failing to protect the plaintiffs as minors from incidents of sexual abuse spanning two decades. Diocesan officials knew of the alleged sexual misconduct but failed to act to stop Ochoa-Perez, the suit said.

The alleged victims, who are now between 11 and 34 years old, include former altar boys and girls. The incidents occurred in Ochoa-Perez's living quarters and the children's homes from 1985 until May 2006, the suit said.

"While this may be comforting to some of Ochoa's victims, Walsh still has a duty to warn Mexican Catholics about him," David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Wednesday.

Ochoa-Perez had served as an assistant pastor at St. Francis Solano Catholic Church in Sonoma.

Last year, Walsh agreed to undergo a four-month counseling program rather than face misdemeanor charges for failing to notify Sonoma County law enforcement officials immediately about Ochoa-Perez's alleged molestations.

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