Critics Protest Church Handling of Abuse Claims

By Paul Payne
The Press Democrat
May 3, 2010

Protesters gathered outside St. Eugene's Cathedral in Santa Rosa on Sunday to criticize the way the Santa Rosa Diocese has handled sex abuse cases involving priests.

Five demonstrators held signs decrying Bishop Daniel Walsh's refusal to remove a Napa County priest accused of repeatedly molesting a child 40 years ago, and passed out leaflets to parishoners as they emerged from Mass.

Joey Piscitelli, director of the Northern California chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network of the those Abused by Priests, criticized Walsh for ignoring a recommendation from a diocesan panel to oust Monsignor Joseph Alzugary after a review of the allegations.

Piscitelli said the lack of sanctions against Alzugaray resembles inaction from the diocese in other matters, most notably the case of Father Francisco Xavier Ochoa, who fled to Mexico three years ago after admitting to Walsh he molested a child.

"He has a history of protecting, promoting and shielding accused pedophiles," said Piscitelli of Martinez. "He's ignoring the safety of our children."

Walsh has declined to discuss the decision, citing confidentiality. Neither Walsh nor other church officials could be reached for comment Sunday.

Alzugaray, 68, pastor of St. Apollinaris Church in Napa, has been the focus of an investigation and civil lawsuit involving a Southern California schoolgirl, Erin Brady, who accused him of molesting her from 1967 to 1970. He has denied the charges.

In October, after an internal investigation, the diocesean panel recommended Alzugaray be removed, but Walsh has allowed him to stay on and head the Napa Deanery, which includes seven parishes. He has direct oversight of a Catholic school.

"It's a typical practice of bishops to hide their priests," said Tim Lemmon, a SNAP demonstrator who came up from San Francisco.

Parishoners on Sunday said they agreed with the need for openness, and some called for Alzugaray's removal.

"The church should be more strict with those kinds of abusers," said Olga Castaneda as she walked out of the cathedral carrying a baby. "They are supposed to be good examples for society. And they are not doing it."

But some questioned the demonstrators' tactics while others said they felt the abuse is no longer an issue.

Marty McCormick, a lifelong member of the parish, said "our eyes are open now."

"Attention is good," McCormick said. "But I don't think the abuse is continuing."

The Santa Rosa Diocese, which stretches from Santa Rosa to the Oregon border, has paid about $25 million to settle victims' lawsuits involving abuse by at least 17 priests over four decades.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or


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