Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Santa Rosa's Bishop Walsh's delay in reporting abuse and the only appropriate response to this

As of last Thursday, the investigators looking into Santa Rosa's Bishop Daniel Walsh’s delay in reporting child sex abuse suspicions involving fugitive priest Xavier Ochoa has been concluded.

It is now up to the Sonoma County’s District Attorney’s Office to determine if charges will be filed against Walsh.

The story is that on April 28 Ochoa told Walsh and other church officials that Ochoa had inappropriate contact with children.

In a situation such as this, California law requires clergy members and other “mandatory reporters” to report abuse “immediately or as soon as practicably possible” by phone and to follow up by fax or e-mail within 36 hours.

But it took Walsh four days before he contacted the Sheriff’s Department by fax.

And prior to notifying the Sheriff’s Department, reports say that two days after Ochoa’s meeting with Bishop Walsh, Walsh had informed Ochoa that he is to be reported. This apparently gave Ochoa some time to make preparations to flee to Mexico.

According to Sheriff's Sgt. Dennis O'Leary, "We think we have a strong enough case here for charges to be filed."

The faithful of Santa Rosa have come to the Bishop’s defense. Most notably, 13 lay leaders in the diocese wrote a commentary last Saturday published in the local newspaper.

An interesting portion of their commentary/defense reads: “Not unlike the CEO of a multimillion-dollar corporation, Bishop Walsh is the hub of a significant wheel of Catholicism in our northern counties. But unlike the corporate CEO who travels to and from his responsibilities in a corporate jet, Walsh pushes his way up and down Highway 101 to his responsibilities in a 2000 Volvo.”

It also catalogues the Bishop’s many responsibilities and duties outside his diocese.

Well, all of that didn’t impress many readers of the paper.

One person wrote: “If [Walsh] had run their church into bankruptcy or embezzled funds, would they still be defending him as a ‘man of high moral rectitude’? I am appalled that these 13 gentlemen condone as an ‘unfortunate error’ the release of an alleged child molester, allowing him to escape into Mexico where he could continue his alleged pattern of preying upon children there.”

One writer commented: “They compare Walsh to a ‘CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation.’ So was Kenneth Lay, whom friends described as a godly man of high moral standards....a clergyman of Walsh’s standing should know better, particularly in view of ongoing church scandals where child abuse is concerned.”

And another wrote: “The issue is not how good an administrator he is but how good a shepherd he has been to the least of his brethren.”

It is indeed heartening to hear these lay leaders come to the defense of their Bishop. I am sure they realize, that given the scandalous news that emerged 4 years ago in the media, intense scrutiny is now invested (and rightly so) on the Church’s bishops and priests to adhere to the commitment to protect children.

In other words, we cannot afford to be excessively “cautious” in reporting matters as grave as this.

And Bishop Walsh, I am glad to hear, now realizes this. His is perhaps the only appropriate response to this whole mess: admit one's mistake and accept the consequences.

In a recent message to the Diocese, Walsh says:

“I waited from an excess of caution. In attempting to consult first with our diocesan attorney, I made a mistake. I failed to be guided by my own precepts for decisive action....The best way to renew the healing process and rebuild a spirit of understanding is to admit my own personal fault, and accept any consequences that may ensue....If I am found guilty for not taking immediate action, I will accept whatever punishment is imposed.”

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