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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Letters

Letter to Member of USCCB National Review Board



September 6, 2006

Mr. Joseph Russoniello
Cooley Godward
101 California Street
San Francisco, CA

Dear Mr. Russoniello;

Fr. Frank Epperson knows that child sexual abuse is a crime. Yet he didn't call the police.

Fr. Daniel Whelton knows that child sexual abuse is a crime. Yet he didn't call the police.

Msgr. James Pulskamp knows that child sexual abuse is a crime. Yet he didn't call the police.

Bishop Daniel Walsh knows that child sexual abuse is a crime. Yet he didn't call the police.

At least five highly-educated and high-ranking clerical employees of the Santa Rosa diocese knew about or suspected Fr. Xavier Ochoa's crimes, yet notified no one.

Finally, you know that child sexual abuse is a crime. You are a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' National Review Board, a board that is supposed to investigate claims of child sexual abuse and work to protect children and help victims find justice. It is incumbent on you, we believe, to take steps now to help protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded, by forcefully addressing the on-going mismanagement and insensitivity of the Santa Rosa diocesan hierarchy.

We are, of course, deeply concerned that a priest who admitted child sexual abuse fled the country to avoid facing the consequences of his actions in a court of law. We are just as concerned, perhaps more concerned, that this was made possible by top officials of the Santa Rosa diocese.

At least four of them knew about either allegations against Fr. Ochoa or about admissions by Fr. Ochoa about abuse. Yet none of them met their civic or moral duty. None of them acted promptly, pastorally, and appropriately. None of them called the police.

(A minimum of four days later, the diocesan lawyer finally sent a fax to a state agency. It is common knowledge that the police work 24/7.)

Instead, Bishop Walsh and his key staff did what Catholic officials have done for decades. They met behind closed doors.

And now an admitted child molester has fled the country. Now, a dangerous man walks is somewhere among unsuspecting families. Now, a sex offender is free to hurt more kids.

Addiing insult to injury, Bishop Walsh and his staff then deceived their flock about Ochoa's crimes. Here's what the Santa Rosa Press Democrat wrote a few weeks ago:

When officials from the Diocese of Santa Rosa announced the removal of the Rev. Xavier Ochoa last month, they told parishioners of St. Francis Solano Church that the misconduct was limited to one incident in April when he asked a 12-year-old altar boy to strip naked for him.

But according to Sonoma County court records, Ochoa admitted to Santa Rosa Bishop Daniel Walsh a month before the announcement that he had a history of inappropriate contact with boys. While officials limited their disclosures to the public, they told authorities about the priest's admissions, the records show.

In recent weeks, we have asked Bishop Walsh to:

--personally visit parishes where Ochoa worked

--use diocesan newspapers, websites and church bulletins to encourage victims and witnesses to come forward

--fire his lawyer (who reported late and to the wrong agency)

--discipline the clerics involved

--accompany a Spanish-speaking SNAP leader to Mexico and warn Catholics there of Ochoa's predatory behavior.

The bishop, however, has either ignored all our suggestions.

We are asking that you, as a Catholic, an officer of the court, and a member of the National Review Board, to take decisive action. We're asking that you break from tradition, and publicly, individually, and clearly speak out about Bishop Walsh's misdeeds and continued complicity. We're asking that you prod your NRB colleagues to do the same - formally and collectively.

We're aware of how the NRB views its role. We know that most often, NRB members remain quiet about individual situations. However, we're also aware that a number of your predecessors (Mr. Bennett, Ms. Burke, Ms. Hayes, Mr. Keating) have spoken up when particularly egregious mismanagement has occurred.

This situation, we feel, cries out for action.

Child sex abuse thrives in secrecy. The solution is openness. We hope you'll join us in being part of the solution.

We hope to hear from you soon.

David Clohessy of St. Louis, SNAP National Director 314 566 9790 cell, 314 645 5915, [email protected]

Mary Grant of Long Beach, SNAP Western Regional Director 626 419 2930, [email protected]

Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP Outreach Director 314 503 0003 cell, 314 862 7688, [email protected]

Barbara Blaine of Chicago, SNAP president 312 399 4747, [email protected]

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests