Clergy abuse victims ask District Attorney to investigate Santa
By James Lanaras, Bay City News Service
July 7, 2006
SANTA ROSA (BCN) - An organization of clergy abuse victims
Thursday called upon Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua
to prosecute the bishop and any priests and officials in the Diocese
of Santa Rosa who did not immediately report alleged sexual misconduct
by the Rev. Francisco Xavier Ochoa.
The district attorney's office has filed 10 felony and one misdemeanor
charge against Ochoa for alleged sexual offenses against three
underage boys between 1988 and last April.
Ochoa, 67, the assistant pastor of St. Francis Solano Parish
in Sonoma, admitted the most recent offense against a 12-year-old
boy and two other offenses years before to Bishop Daniel Walsh
and other priests on April 28, according to the Sonoma County
Sheriff's Department. Ochoa disappeared on May 1 and is believed
to be in Mexico.
Walsh suspended Ochoa on April 28 but diocese attorney Dan Galvin
did not report the alleged offenses to the county's child protective
services agency until Monday May 1. Galvin has said he did not
believe the agency was open on a Saturday.
State law requires priests, nurses, teachers and other caregivers
to report suspected child abuse "immediately or as soon as
practicably possible by telephone.''
"There are two crimes here: the sexual abuse of children
and the cover up of abuse and aiding and abetting. At least five
church officials knew about Ochoa's crimes,'' said Mary Grant,
western regional director of SNAP, Survivors Network of Those
Abused by Priests.
"What good is a law that's not enforced? Their obligation
is to the law, not the church,'' Grant said. She said church officials
helped Ochoa "escape justice'' by not immediately reporting
the alleged abuses.
The organization held a news conference at the Sonoma County
Courthouse before delivering a letter to the district attorney's
office Thursday afternoon.
Cynthia Vrooman, of the North Bay Voice of the Faithful, said
60 parishioners have signed a letter to Walsh asking him to follow
the diocese's policy and state law about immediately reporting
"We're shocked. We are grieving. The diocese is back in
a state of grieving,'' Vrooman said.
Attorney Michael Fiumara, who represents Ochoa's alleged victims,
said there may be as many as 10 victims who "are very afraid.''
Walsh is on vacation until August, diocese spokeswoman Dierdre
Frontczak said Thursday afternoon. She said the diocese had no
further comment other than "the district attorney's office's
statement it had no intention to prosecute anyone'' regarding
the delay in reporting the allegations against Ochoa. Galvin did
not immediately return calls for comment.
SNAP also took issue with the district attorney's office.
"We are also upset by assistant District Attorney Larry
Scoufos' public statement that charges against diocesan staff
for failing to report are 'highly unlikely,''' Grant said. She
said such conjecture is hurtful, not helpful, and could discourage
others from providing information.
Both Scoufos and Passalacqua are on vacation. Assistant District
Attorney Christine Cook told SNAP members who presented their
letter in the office's lobby that she is not aware of any pending
investigation regarding the failure of anyone to report Ochoa's
alleged offenses in a timely manner.
"That case is not before us,'' Cook said.
She said the office receives dozens of letters each day and handles
each one a case-by-case basis. Cook said the sheriff's office
is conducting the investigation and identifying alleged victims
and she urged anyone with information to come forward.
She said any prosecution for not reporting the alleged sexual
abuse depends on whether there is evidence beyond a reasonable
doubt that the failure to report was willful.
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