Investigation into Sonoma priest's activity broadens
By James Lanaras, Bay City News Service
July 14, 2006
SANTA ROSA (BCN) - The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department
is conducting an investigation to determine when clergy of the
Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa knew about alleged sexual
misconduct by one of its priests who is now believed to be in
Lt. Dave Edmonds said the county district attorney's office requested
the investigation, separate from the one into Ochoa's alleged
activities, and report early this week.
The district attorney's office has filed 10 felony charges of
lewd acts against a minor against 67-year-old Rev. Francisco Xavier
Ochoa of the St. Francis Solano Church in Sonoma. A warrant has
been issued for Ochoa's arrest.
It has been alleged that Bishop Daniel Walsh and three priests
knew about the alleged misconduct of Ochoa with a 12-year-old
boy at least four days before Ochoa disappeared on May 2, but
did not immediately report it to authorities as required by state
law and church policy.
A Sheriff's Department affidavit states Walsh and the Rev. Frank
Epperson met with Ochoa on April 28 when Ochoa admitted his involvement
with the boy. The diocese reported its attorney Dan Galvin faxed
a letter about Ochoa to the county's Child Protective Services
office on May 1. The Sheriff's Department began an investigation
on May 3 and when detectives went to Ochoa's apartment on May
4, he was gone.
The sheriff's investigation also identified two other alleged
victims who are now adults.
In a letter to parishioners on June 23, Walsh said he placed
Ochoa on administrative leave and removed him from his ministries
and his ability to function as a priest after Ochoa admitted the
incident with the boy and two other previous incidents.
"At all times we have acted in good faith, and I believe
with reasonable speed, to notify the authorities of any information
that we receive,'' Walsh said.
The bishop said he did not consider Ochoa a flight risk and he
is "dismayed by his decision to flee.''
Walsh has been on vacation and has not made any further comment.
Members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests,
petitioned the district attorney's office last week to investigate
the delay and today SNAP welcomed the expanded investigation.
"We believe that others in the church, both volunteers and
staff, have information that should be given to law enforcement
about the inexcusable delays by Bishop Walsh and the horrific
crimes by Father Ochoa.
"Victims may have been intimidated, witnesses threatened
and evidence may have been destroyed over the past few weeks.
So, it's more important than ever that citizens and Catholics
honor their moral and civil duty by speaking up,'' said Mary Grant,
SNAP's western regional director.
Edmonds said he couldn't comment on Ochoa's whereabouts or on
the new investigation.
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