Editorial: Church shines spotlight on own darkness
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” – Ephesians 5:11
The Diocese of Santa Rosa made public Saturday the names of 39 Catholic clergy believed to have sexually abused about 100 children since the diocese founding in 1962.
Bishop Robert F. Vasa, writing extensively in this month’s issue of the North Coast Catholic newsletter, published Jan. 12, described the abuse as “very real trauma which the evil actions of priests and bishops have caused in the lives of thousands of young people in our nation.”
In most cases involving the Santa Rosa diocese, he points out, the abuses occurred decades ago, though the most recent were as late as 2006 and 2008. Fourteen of the 39 names were accused of crimes prior to joining the Santa Rosa diocese; 25 are now deceased; and none currently serve the diocese.
Among the would-be abusers on the list are former Hanna Boys Center clergyman, Rev. John Crews, who resigned from the home for troubled youth in 2013 after an allegation of sexual misconduct was made by the widow of a man alleged to have been abused by Crews in the early 1970s, and former St. Francis Solano assistant pastor, the late Francisco Xavier Ochoa, believed to have committed at least 10 counts of felony child sex abuse in his years with the diocese from the late 1980s to 2006.
Ochoa’s molestations first came to the attention of the Santa Rosa diocese in 2006, but when church officials dragged their feet for several days before reporting the allegations to the police, Ochoa took advantage of the window and fled to his native Mexico. He remained a fugitive in Jalisco until his apparent death from lung cancer at age 71 in 2009, never having to answer for his crimes.
The diocese’s delayed response to the Ochoa revelations and the role that played in his skipping town is demonstrative of the Catholic Church’s tradition of not treating child abuse with the gravity one would expect from an organization dedicated to the word of Jesus.
And, yet, here we are again. Every couple of years it happens: revelations of past abuse surface, attempts at a cover up are discovered, front-page headlines ensue and church officials apologize and say it will never happen again. It’s practically a cycle of abuse in its own right. Last August’s grand jury report detailing decades of abuse across eight diocese in Pennsylvania named more than 270 priests accused of sexually abusing over a 1,000 kids in the course of 70 years. The report initiated the naming of perpetrators in diocese across the country, in an admirable, if belated, attempt at transparency.
As far as the healing goes, it’s a start. And the Santa Rosa diocese should be commended for acknowledging the predators within its own ranks. And yet Vasa’s letter in the North Coast Catholic still at times succumbs to the same mitigations the Catholic Church has been pushing since papacy of John Paul II.
It qualifies the crimes; it compartmentalizes the perpetrators.
“The evil and sinful actions of these priests have adversely affected us all,” writes Vasa, who laments the “predatory priests” who have dishonored the many decent clergy dedicating their lives to helping others. “We have all suffered as a result of the evil actions.”