Santa Rosa bishop offered counseling in lieu of criminal charges

.- Bishop Daniel Walsh of Santa Rosa will follow a four-month counseling program, rather than face criminal charges, for failing to report child abuse allegations against a local priest, announced Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua.

In a statement Monday, Passalacqua said Bishop Walsh was eligible to participate in the Adult Diversion Services program because he admitted wrongdoing and has no prior record, reported The Associated Press.

Investigators reported in August that they had enough evidence to pursue a case against the bishop for failing to immediately report abuse by Fr. Xavier Ochoa.

The 68-year-old priest worked at St. Francis Solano Church in Sonoma before admitting misconduct in an April 28th meeting with the bishop and two other church officials. However, the bishop delayed reporting the abuse for three days, giving Ochoa ample time to flee to Mexico before authorities could arrest him, deputies said.

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 any suspicions of child sex abuse and to follow up by fax or e-mail within 36 hours. A violation has a potential penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Bishop Walsh has publicly apologized for failing to report the alleged misconduct immediately.


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