WASHINGTON (CNS) – Bishop Daniel F. Walsh of Santa Rosa, Calif., agreed Nov. 20 to enroll in a diversion counseling program in lieu of facing possible criminal charges for his delay in reporting allegations that one of his priests sexually abused a minor.
Bishop Walsh publicly apologized for failing to report the alleged abuse to authorities immediately and said he would accept "whatever punishment is imposed."
In other recent developments concerning clergy sex abuse:
- Ohio's nine dioceses have joined to set up a $3 million fund for independent counseling for victims of childhood abuse at the hands of Ohio church personnel.
- The Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pa., announced a new spiritual outreach program for abuse victims.
- The Diocese of Wilmington, Del., released the names of 20 priests believed to have abused children.
- A defrocked Denver priest facing numerous abuse allegations died while vacationing in Mexico.
- A suspended priest of the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., who was convicted of embezzlement and sexual abuse of minors, was put back in prison for violating the terms of his probation.
In Santa Rosa, news reports said that Father Xavier Ochoa of St. Francis Solano Parish in Sonoma, Calif., admitted to Bishop Walsh April 27 or 28 that he had sexually molested a child. The bishop suspended him immediately. Bishop Walsh notified diocesan attorney Dan Galvin on April 29, which was a Saturday. Galvin reportedly had his secretary call Child Protective Services on Monday, May 1, and the bishop's first personal contact with authorities was May 2.
In the meantime Father Ochoa, 68, had fled the area. He is believed to be living in Mexico. In June authorities issued an arrest warrant, charging him with 11 counts of child sex abuse involving three boys.
The Sonoma County district attorney's office investigated possible misdemeanor charges against Bishop Walsh, but said Nov. 20 that since he has admitted wrongdoing and has no prior record he is eligible for the diversion program, which involves four months of counseling. The program is tailored to the individual case and could include therapy or community service.
In general diversion programs divert nonviolent, adult and juvenile criminal offenders away from traditional prosecution but still hold offenders accountable for their actions through a supervised, well-structured program.
In a diocesan news release Bishop Walsh said, "I welcome an opportunity to conclude this phase of the matter and will complete the program as presented to me as quickly as possible." Upon successful completion of the program, any pending charges will be waived, the release said.
In Ohio, the Catholic conference, an organization of the bishops of the state's eight Latin dioceses and one Eastern-rite diocese, posted information on the new counseling assistance fund on its Web site.
The assistance "is directed toward those who are reluctant to contact the church for help," it said. It said that those eligible for counseling through the fund may "obtain services from any mental health provider licensed in the person's state of residence."
The Pittsburgh Diocese decided to launch a spiritual outreach program for victims, in addition to its counseling and support programs, as a result of a request by an abuse victim to then-Bishop Donald W. Wuerl, who is now archbishop of Washington.
The victim and diocesan staff worked together to develop materials for the program, called "To Renew What Is Broken," and the materials were sent out to all parishes in November.
Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli of Wilmington said he was releasing the names of priests with "admitted, corroborated or otherwise substantiated" sex-abuse allegations against them.
Of the 20, two were accused of abuse in other dioceses; 10 of the 18 accused of abuse in the Wilmington Diocese are dead.
Bishop Saltarelli said one reason he decided to release all the names was the recent case of Father Francis G. DeLuca, 77, who was removed from ministry in 1993 and allowed to retire in his hometown, Syracuse, N.Y. Father DeLuca was recently arrested there and charged with sexually abusing a Syracuse boy, now 18, for several years when the boy was 12 or 13 until he was 17. Bishop Saltarelli said he will now ask Rome to laicize Father DeLuca.
Former Denver priest Harold R. White, 73, who was removed from ministry in 1993 and laicized in 2004, died of a heart attack Nov. 14 while vacationing in Cancun, Mexico. More than half the 26 sexual abuse lawsuits that the Denver Archdiocese is facing involve allegations against White.
His death was not expected to have a significant impact on the lawsuits, which typically rest on whether church authorities left a priest in ministry when they knew or should have known of his misconduct.
In Pennsylvania, President Judge William Baldwin of Schuylkill County Court revoked the probation of a suspended priest, Father Ronald J. Yarrosh, who was out of prison after serving a partial sentence for sexually abusing children and embezzling more than $23,000 from St. Ambrose Parish in Schuylkill Haven.
"You should not be out in the community, just waiting for an incident to happen," Baldwin said after Father Yarrosh admitted in court Nov. 21 that he had violated conditions of probation by drinking alcohol, buying child pornography and taking the 7-year-old daughter of a New York City stripper to lunch.
He sentenced Father Yarrosh, 57, to four to 10 years in state prison. The priest has been suspended since 2004, when police, investigating suspected embezzlement, uncovered a huge cache of child pornography in his rectory, on his computer and in a storage unit he rented.
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops