Bishop Daniel Walsh has rejected the recommendation of his own advisory panel and refused to remove a Napa priest accused of repeatedly sexually abusing a grade-school-age girl more than 40 years ago.
The seven-member Diocesan Review Board spent two years investigating abuse charges by Erin Brady, now 51, against Monsignor Joseph Alzugaray, pastor of St. Apollinaris Church in Napa.
In October, the board recommended to the bishop that Alzugaray be removed from ministry, according to Brady and diocesan sources.
But in January, Walsh notified the review board that he had decided against their recommendation and would keep Alzugaray in active ministry at St. Apollinaris, where he continues to serve.
Walsh, interviewed Friday in the parking lot of the Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese chancery, refused to comment on his decision, citing the confidential nature of the review board.
"I will not comment on my decision," he said. "If I start reporting on what was discussed, the confidentiality will not be helped."
When asked whether or not the parishioners of St. Apollinaris had a right to know what the review board had recommended, Walsh said, "I will not comment on that."
Walsh's decision to keep Alzugaray in ministry comes at a time when the Catholic sex abuse scandal is spreading throughout Europe. Critics say Pope Benedict XVI, in earlier roles, failed to remove abusing priests despite compelling evidence brought to his attention.
Alzugaray has repeatedly denied the charges against him.
But in a 2003 civil lawsuit, Brady, the only person who has publicly brought allegations against Alzugaray, claimed that from "approximately 1967 through approximately 1970, Joseph Alzugaray engaged in unpermitted, harmful and offensive sexual conduct and contact" with her. The details of the alleged abuse were also documented in a 2002 Monrovia Police Department report.
The review board's findings would have remained private were it not for Tony Madrid, a west county psychologist and review board member. Brady said that within the past few weeks he had called to inform her of the recommendation to remove Alzugaray.
"He just wanted me to know what the board decided, what the process was," Brady said. "He said that the board believed me, that they found me credible. ... Basically, he said that they believed me and not him."
Madrid, as well as board members Frank Heffernan and John Gallagher, refused to comment publicly about the board's recommendation. The board's chairwoman, Cathy Hughes, and members Elizabeth McKee and Bob McKeever did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
The review board was created by Walsh in 2000, shortly after his arrival to head a Santa Rosa Diocese that had received national attention over claims of clergy sexual abuse. The diocese, which stretches from Santa Rosa to the Oregon border, has paid about $25 million to settle victims' lawsuits involving abuse by at least 17 priests over four decades.
Walsh, in a message to North Coast Catholics, heralded establishment of the permanent committee to review clergy misconduct as "a new chapter in the life of this local church."
The body, he said, "will investigate any incidents that are reported and make recommendations so that any victim is assisted and any perpetrator is stopped."
Julie Sparacio, victim's assistance coordinator for the diocese, said, "I'm aware that the bishop made a decision in January to leave Alzugaray in ministry." She declined to answer specific questions about the communication between the board and the bishop, but said she had been in contact with Brady.