Monday, November 20, 2006

The Bishop Gets Counseling

Closing a months-long investigation, no criminal action will be taken against Bishop Daniel Walsh of Santa Rosa for delaying report of abusive priest; California prelate to attend four-month "counseling diversion" program, prosecutor's decision panned by victims:
Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua said Monday the decision to offer diversion in lieu of filing charges was in no way letting Walsh off the hook for failing to immediately report the actions of Francisco Xavier Ochoa, a Sonoma priest wanted on 10 felony counts of sexual molestation.

Violation of the state’s mandatory reporting law of suspected child abuse, a misdemeanor crime, carries a potential penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. But Passalacqua said that since Walsh has no prior criminal record, he is entitled to the diversion program.

“We certainly hope that our decision involving Bishop Walsh will send a clear message to all mandated reporters of the importance of immediately reporting to law enforcement any child abuse or elderly abuse any injury of an assault,” said Passalacqua.

Walsh said Monday afternoon that diocese attorney Dan Galvin received a form, faxed from the District Attorney’s Office, that details the diversion program. Galvin then informed Walsh of Passalacqua’s decision.

“I’m just pleased that finally a decision was made,” said Walsh. “I said from the very beginning I acknowledged my mistake. And I said I would abide by whatever the decision the district attorney rendered after his investigation.”

Walsh has 21 days to formally agree to the diversion program, but he said Monday that he would complete the program.

Ochoa, who worked as a priest at St. Francis Solano Church in Sonoma, remains a fugitive, believed to have fled the country May 6, about a week after admitting to Walsh and other church officials of sexual improprieties with several children.