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Oakland diocese issued news release on alleged priest misconduct with minor. Five hours later it alerted police

Matthias Gafni, East Bay Times on

Published in Religious News

OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Oakland diocese officials issued a news release before dawn Thursday announcing that Rev. Alex Castillo, who headed the faith formation and other programs, had been placed on administrative leave for inappropriate contact with a minor, they had not yet alerted police.

It would take another five hours after the 5:14 a.m. press statement for an official from the Oakland diocese to call Oakland police to investigate one of its high-ranking priests, according to a police spokeswoman. Sources say the allegations involve a victim who was a minor in 2016 when the alleged crime occurred.

The diocese has not said when it first learned of the allegations against Castillo, but spokeswoman Helen Osman said Monday that Castillo was told at the end of the day Wednesday that he had been placed on leave, at which point Chancery staff and priests were also informed. She did not immediately answer questions as to why police were not notified until Thursday morning, but survivor advocates Monday criticized the diocese over the delay.

"A police report is the very first thing that should be done when the Church receives an allegation of child sexual abuse," said Melanie Sakoda, a San Francisco Bay Area leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "This should have happened as soon as the report was received, not after notifying diocesan clergy of the charges, or putting out a press release about them. This delay could give a cleric, particularly one from another country, the opportunity to flee."

Sakoda referenced a Santa Rosa case where the bishop waited days to report child molestation allegations raised in 2006 against a Sonoma priest named Francisco Xavier Ochoa. The delay allowed Ochoa to flee to Mexico and evade prosecution, until his death in 2009. Castillo came to the U.S. in 2008, but is originally from Costa Rica.

"If he was placed on leave Wednesday, why are they reporting to police Thursday? That gives him a head start to flee," SNAP official Joey Piscitelli said. "And also, when was the abuse originally reported, and to whom? It may have been days earlier."

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Employees are required by state law to immediately report suspicions of child abuse.

Oakland Police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said the department's Special Victims Unit is now assessing if any crimes took place in Oakland and if so, what crimes. She declined to detail the nature of the allegations against Castillo. She said that after receiving a call at 10:22 a.m. Thursday, a patrol officer was dispatched to investigate but that officer was then reassigned to answer a priority call. An officer eventually responded to take a report after 4 p.m., she said.

Last week, Osman said the diocese was cooperating with the investigation. The church has said it is not providing details to protect the investigation and "victim." The diocese did say that while on leave Castillo "is not allowed to function publicly as a priest."

"You can be assured the diocese is following its protocol and state law, which includes reporting to law enforcement," Osman said.

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