|In August, sheriff's departmentinvestigators said they had enough evidence to pursue a criminal caseagainst Walsh for failing to quickly report abuse by the Rev. XavierOchoa, who fled to Mexico before authorities could arrest him.|
Ochoa, 68, worked at St. Francis Solano Church in Sonoma beforeadmitting misconduct during a meeting Friday, April 28 with Walsh andtwo other church officials.
Nearly 24 hours later, Walsh made his first call on the matterto diocesan lawyer Dan Galvin. Unaware that Child Protective Serviceshad a 24-hour hot line, Galvin had his secretary call the agencyMonday, who learned the report should have been filed at the sheriff'soffice. Walsh spoke with investigators for the first time Wednesday,May 2, five days after learning of the abuse.
Deputies said the delay helped Ochoa escape.
Walsh has publicly apologized for failing to report the allegedmisconduct immediately. He also said it was a mistake to call hislawyer first.
â€œI should have acted immediately, and not delayed,â€ Walsh saidin a letter of apology that followed two months later. He also said hewould â€œaccept whatever punishment is imposed.â€
During an interview with The Associated Press, Walsh calledOchoa an â€œunsympathetic characterâ€ whom he immediately stripped of hisduties as a priest.
Ochoa is wanted on 10 felony counts and one misdemeanor count of child sex abuse involving three boys.
State law requires clergymen to immediately report suspicion ofchild sex abuse and to follow up by fax or e-mail within 36 hours. Aviolation has a potential penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000fine.
Passalacqua said Walsh could participate in the Adult Diversion Services program.
â€œBishop Walsh admitted wrongdoing, has no prior record, and iseligible to enroll in this program,â€ Passalacqua said in a release.
If Walsh successfully completes the counseling program, no formal criminal charge will be filed, he said.
A message left for a diocese spokeswoman was not immediately returned.
No U.S. bishop has ever been criminally charged for failing todisclose allegations of abuse and a group representing victims ofclergy abuse criticized the district attorney for giving Walsh theoption to escape prosecution.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests saidPassalacqua was â€œa cowardly politician instead of a courageousadvocate. He had a chance to show that putting children in harm's wayis wrong.â€