Santa Rosa Diocese to Pay $5 Million in Priest Sex Abuse Settlement

September 14, 2007

The Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa has agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle a sex abuse lawsuit involving fugitive priest Xavier Ochoa and 10 alleged victims, lawyers and the diocese said.

The diocese will pay the plaintiffs $5 million from insurance funds and proceeds from the sale of property adjacent to a Santa Rosa church.

Bishop Daniel Walsh will pay another $20,000 from his own pocket, said Dan Galvin, lawyer for the diocese.

“This was the bishop putting in some money to get this case settled,” he said.

Diocese spokeswoman Deirdre Frontzak said she didn’t know where Walsh got the money, but, as a diocesan priest, he hadn’t taken a vow of poverty. Priests often have access to family money, she said.

Walsh was at a conference in Washington, D.C., Wednesday and unavailable for comment, she said.

The agreement was reached Aug. 27 after a daylong mediation session. It must be approved by a judge, who also will decide how to distribute the money among the victims, who primarily belong to two families, lawyers said.

“Under the circumstances, we’re very satisfied,” said Michael Meadows, one of the lawyers for the alleged victims. “We had to accept the fact Santa Rosa is not a rich diocese.”

Ochoa was suspended in April 2006, after admitting an incident of sexual abuse with a 12-year-old boy. Walsh didn’t notify law enforcement until three days later, giving Ochoa time to flee to Mexico, according to church and law enforcement officials. Walsh later admitted wrongdoing, apologized and underwent four months of counseling to avoid misdemeanor criminal charges. He completed that diversion program earlier this year, spokeswoman Deirdre Frontzak said.

Meadows commended the bishop and his lawyers for being respectful of his clients.

“They didn’t try to minimize the damage they suffered,” he said.

Ochoa was ordained as a Jesuit in 1969 in Mexico and became a diocesan priest when he arrived in Sonoma County in 1988. Meadows said Ochoa may have abused boys in Mexico, but there’s no evidence Santa Rosa was aware of those alleged incidents.

He also abused at least one boy as recently as last year, Meadows alleged.

“It was absolutely clear Ochoa was not properly supervised,” he said. “Incidents in his past were bright red flags and he was just allowed to continue on.”

Meadows said he remains optimistic Ochoa will someday face criminal charges.

“That’s what I’m hoping will be the next step in this process,” he said. “For what he did to these kids — it is literally criminal and he should answer to it.”

Ochoa is the 17th priest from the diocese to be accused of molesting a total of 62 children, but about half those allegations can’t be verified, Frontzak said. In all, the diocese has paid or promised to pay dozens of people nearly $20 million since 1990.

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