SAN FRANCISCO – A priest who admitted sexually abusing a 12-year-old altar boy fled to Mexico after his bishop failed to immediately report the confession to authorities, a law enforcement official said.
The Rev. Xavier Ochoa was suspended April 28 after admitting to the abuse to the Roman Catholic bishop of Santa Rosa. Bishop Daniel Walsh didn't notify law enforcement until three days later, giving Ochoa time to flee, according to church and law enforcement officials.
The Sonoma County district attorney's office on Thursday filed multiple misdemeanor and felony charges against Ochoa related to three boys he allegedly abused. Besides the altar boy, he also was charged with molesting two teenage boys more than 10 years ago when he lived in Cotati.
A spokeswoman for the diocese did not return calls seeking comment.
According to law enforcement and church officials, Ochoa confessed on April 27 to a fellow priest. Ochoa reported it the following day to the bishop, who immediately suspended Ochoa and barred him from performing his priestly duties.
Dan Galvin, the diocese's lawyer, said in court documents that Walsh spoke to him the following day. Believing the Child Protective Services office would be closed on a Saturday, Galvin faxed a letter to the office on Monday, May 1, and notified the sheriff's department the next day, he said.
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.
Deputies interviewed the altar boy, but Ochoa was likely on his way to Mexico or already there, court records said.
The boy told sheriff's deputies he often went to Ochoa's apartment across the street from St. Francis Solano Church to do chores, according to court documents. Ochoa allegedly 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.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national support group, sent Walsh an angry letter and accused church officials of dragging their feet.
"When any citizen suspects a crime, he or she should call the police. That's common sense, and in this case, that's the law," said David Clohessy, SNAP's director.
It was unlikely church officials would face criminal charges for the tardy reporting, said O'Leary, the sheriff's spokesman.
"You don't want to discourage people from reporting abuse," O'Leary said.
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.