Santa Rosa Diocese names 39 clergymen as accused sex abusers
Santa Rosa Bishop Robert ?F. Vasa on Saturday revealed the names of 39 priests and deacons who church leaders say committed child sexual abuse or were credibly accused of such crimes, a disclosure that marks the most comprehensive acknowledgment of the decadeslong scope of the clergy abuse scandal for the local Catholic church.
The list made public to about 140,000 members of the Santa Rosa Diocese as well as the media includes many names long known from high-profile molestation cases as well as several previously unknown, most of them accused of offenses committed several decades ago.
At least 25 of those on the list are deceased, including three of four men named for the first time who had claims raised against them as part of their service for the diocese, which spanned from the early 1960s until at least the early 1980s.
None of those named are serving in public ministry in the diocese, Vasa said in the North Coast Catholic newspaper, published Saturday along with a long-planned news release.
Fourteen people on the list served in the local diocese at some point but had accusations lodged against them elsewhere, Vasa said.
But the bishop said a search of the records indicated about 25 priests were accused of abusing about 100 children during their service to the diocese from its founding in 1962 to the present. In the church newspaper, Vasa called it “a shocking number” that, in part, drove him to make the list public.
He noted that four priests - Gary Timmons, Don Kimball, Austin Peter Keegan and Francisco Xavier Ochoa - were responsible for 63 known victims. Kimball and Ochoa are deceased.
“My primary goal in releasing the names of accused priests and deacons who served in Santa Rosa in this public fashion is to give to all the victims of clerical sexual abuse the assurance that they have been heard and that the Church is very much concerned for their well-being and healing,” Vasa wrote.
“It is my deepest prayer and hope that this release of names in a consolidated fashion says to any of you who are victims, we have heard you, we believe you, we affirm you in your trauma and we want to help with a healing process.”
Critics said the bishop’s disclosure should have provided more detail on the history of the North Coast diocese, which had been characterized in the past as an intentional refuge for abusive priests from other areas.
An attorney deeply involved in combating sex abuse in the church said the disclosure was a result of growing pressure from civil society and continued legal claims by victims.
One survivor, who spoke on the condition he not be identified, said it appeared to him releasing the list was “the bare minimum.”
He said the disclosure should include legal papers revealing the details of multiple abuse cases, which have long been covered by confidentiality agreements. The diocese could redact the names of victims for their protection and “open up the testimony and the depositions of all the priests, bishops and anyone else involved in these heinous crimes,” the survivor said.
“My belief is that they would never expose all the years of denial, painful character assassinations and legal stonewalling that occurred ... throughout the process,” he said.
The list of 39 clergymen includes the well-known names of predatory priests whose behavior came to light beginning in the mid-1990s during a rash of civil and criminal cases that exposed the sprawling North Coast diocese as a focal point of the Catholic abuse scandal several years before widespread misdeeds erupted nationwide.
The diocese has since paid out more than $29 million in legal settlements to childhood victims of at least 10 priests since the 1990s, about $12 million of it covered by insurance, Vasa said. The Santa Rosa Diocese includes 40 parishes from Petaluma to the Oregon border.
“Sadly, we have had sexual abuse events as late as 2006 and 2008 and I find that most troubling,” Vasa said in a statement accompanying the disclosure, which was also published in Spanish. “However, the vast majority of the abuses occurred decades ago. This is not complete proof that the Church is making progress in eliminating this great tragedy, but I find this to be a sign of hope.”
In his homily delivered Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Eugene, Rev. Frank Epperson urged about 200 parishioners to take home a copy of the diocesan newspaper. The “vast majority” of the crimes, he noted, are “decades old.”
Epperson also spoke of the “evil times” threatening the church and asked parishioners to recite the Prayer to Saint Michael Archangel, a step recommended by Pope Francis in September.