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Bishop Walsh ends 11-year tenure

  • Bishop Daniel Walsh, who headed the Diocese of Santa Rosa for 11 years. (JOHN BURGESS/The Press Democrat/January 2011)

Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Bishop Daniel Walsh, who in his 11-year tenure brought stability to the Santa Rosa Diocese after years of financial and sex scandals only to see a troubled priest flee and money woes return in recent years.

Walsh, 73, took over as bishop in April 2000 and has shared duties since January with his successor, Bishop Robert F. Vasa, formerly of the Baker diocese in Oregon.

On Thursday, Walsh moved back to the priest house at St. Anne of the Sunset Catholic Church in his native San Francisco, where he held his first communion, confirmation and Mass.

Walsh had been asking the Vatican to let him retire since 2008.

“I felt that I had accomplished everything that I could in the diocese,” he said. “We put in place, in a very strong way, the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and stabilized the finances with accountability and transparency.”

Walsh came to the Santa Rosa Diocese to clean house a year after former Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann resigned in disgrace, admitting his sexual relationship with another priest and leaving the diocese $16 million in debt.

But Walsh's work in stabilizing the diocese took a step backward in 2006 when his office failed to immediately report alleged sexual misconduct by former Sonoma priest Francisco Xavier Ochoa. Ochoa fled to Mexico before being charged with sex abuse of several children from different Sonoma County families.

After an investigation by the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office, Walsh accepted diversion to a counseling program in lieu of facing misdemeanor charges for the delay.

A lawsuit by Ochoa's victims cost the diocese $5 million in a subsequent settlement and became a public relations black eye for Walsh.

“It was very disappointing that people read my motives very falsely,” he said. “Being accused of harboring a child pedophile is not a happy thing to come at you.”

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