Priest flees after abuse report

Bishop delays reporting incident

Associated Press/June 23, 2006
By Kim Curtis

San Francisco -- The Roman Catholic bishop of Santa Rosa failed to immediately report an admission of child abuse by a priest who has since left the country, authorities said Thursday.

The Rev. Xavier Ochoa was suspended April 28 after admitting an incident of sexual abuse with a 12-year-old boy. Bishop Daniel Walsh didn't notify law enforcement until three days later, giving Ochoa time to flee to Mexico, according to church and law enforcement officials.

The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office on Thursday filed multiple misdemeanor and felony charges, including sodomy, oral copulation and lewd conduct with a minor, according to sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Dennis O'Leary.

It was unlikely that church officials would face criminal charges for the tardy reporting, he said.

According to law enforcement and church officials, Ochoa made the admission April 27 to a fellow priest. Ochoa reported it the next day to the bishop, who immediately suspended Ochoa and barred him from performing his priestly duties.

Walsh spoke to the diocese's lawyer, Dan Galvin, the next day. Believing the Child Protective Services office would be closed on a Saturday, Galvin faxed a letter to the office Monday, May 1. Galvin notified the sheriff's department the next day.

Carol Bauer, director of the county's Family, Youth and Children's Services, said a telephone report should have been made within 24 hours to Child Protective Services, which maintains a 24-hour hot line. The report should have been made by priests who learned of Ochoa's alleged crimes, not by an attorney.

The diocese's policy regarding sexual abuse requires anyone who learns of an alleged incident to report it to law enforcement as "soon as practically possible by telephone and to prepare and send a written report... within 36 hours of receiving the information."

The boy told sheriff's deputies he often went to Ochoa's apartment across the street from St. Francis Solano Church to do chores. Ochoa reportedly offered the boy $100 for a strip tease.

"While the victim was dancing and taking off his clothes, Ochoa sat on the edge of his bed laughing and throwing marshmallows at the victim; and the victim was trying to catch the marshmallows with his mouth," according to court documents.

On May 3, Ochoa called his pastor from San Diego saying he was "tired and scared." The Rev. Michael Kelly told Ochoa to return to Sonoma, court records said.

The following day, Ochoa called a friend and told her he was in a Tijuana hospital, according to court records.

Ochoa also was charged Thursday with molesting two teenage boys more than 10 years ago, when Ochoa was living in Cotati.

A spokesman for the district attorney's office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Ochoa was ordained as a Jesuit in Mexico in 1969 and became a diocesan priest when he arrived in Sonoma County in 1988.

Ochoa is the 17th priest from the diocese to be accused of molesting a total of 62 children. In all, the diocese has paid or promised to pay dozens of people nearly $20 million since 1990.

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