SANTA ROSA — The Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese needs to abandon old practices of dealing with sexual abuse, and will begin turning over to police all credible cases of such abuse involving priests, Bishop Daniel Walsh said.
The statement came less than a month after Walsh was named in a Las Vegas lawsuit for allegedly standing by while another priest molested six teen-age boys.
Walsh’s statements were perhaps his most candid remarks since the national scandal erupted in January involving the Catholic Church, including the Santa Rosa Diocese. At least five Santa Rosa priests have been accused of molesting minors, including Don Kimball, who is standing trial on charges he raped a teen-age parishioner in 1977. Kimball also is charged with lewd conduct toward another underage parishioner in 1981.
On Monday, Walsh vowed that any Diocese of Santa Rosa priest suspected of sexual abuse will face criminal prosecution and also be stripped of his title.
“If you step across the line, you’re finished as a priest,” Walsh told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Walsh did not, however, disclose information during the interview about the suit filed last month against a Catholic church in a Las Vegas suburb where he worked 13 years before his appointment to Santa Rosa in 1999.
The suit names Walsh and three others as defendants, including current Bishop Joseph Pepe, alleging that church administrators investigated reports of sexual abuse but failed to act.
The lawsuit, filed in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas on March 11, alleges that Rev. Mark Roberts sexually abused six teen-age boys over a period of four years.
Walsh was unavailable for comment on Friday.
On Monday, Walsh said the church’s past policy to rehabilitate and transfer priests who have sexually abused minors often has proven to be the wrong course of action.
“We were advised then that therapy could lead to rehabilitation,” Walsh said. “We were following the medical opinion of the time.”
Walsh discussed the Las Vegas suit publicly. Dan Galvin, an attorney for the Santa Rosa Diocese, would not comment on whether the suit prompted Walsh to announce his “zero-tolerance” attitude.
Galvin also would not say whether the Clark County district attorney was considering criminal charges.