Former Santa Rosa Catholic Bishop Gravely Ill

By Guy Kovner
The Press Democrat
September 28, 2009

Former Santa Rosa Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann is dying of pancreatic cancer at an Arizona monastery where he settled after resigning in disgrace from leadership of the North Coast diocese 10 years ago.

Ziemann, 68, is prepared to die from the cancer that has spread to his liver, said his attorney, Chris Andrian of Santa Rosa.

“He is definitely at peace and ready to be with God, as he said to me,” Andrian said Monday.

Ziemann, the scion of a prominent Los Angeles family, was untouched by the priest sex abuse scandal that erupted publicly on the North Coast in 1994, two years after Ziemann took over as the diocese’s fourth bishop.

He removed three priests accused of sexual misconduct and secretly paid more than $560,000 in church funds to an unknown number of victims of clergy abuse.

Ziemann resigned abruptly in 1999 following revelations of his own homosexual relationship with another priest, also leaving the diocese $16 million in debt.

Known to many as “Bishop Pat” and widely regarded as a energetic and effective church leader, Ziemann talked by telephone Monday with Andrian and another attorney, Joe Piasta.

Piasta, who served as Ziemann’s personal attorney, said the bishop often told him that his precipitous fall from grace “brought him closer to the Lord.”

“He was a very spiritual man,” Piasta said. “A great friend.”

Following his resignation, Ziemann settled at Holy Trinity Monastery, a Benedictine facility near Tucson. The Santa Rosa diocese said it no longer had a relationship nor paid the salary of Ziemann, who remained a priest and a bishop.

Monsignor Thomas Keys at Star of the Valley Church in Oakmont said he was shocked to learn of Ziemann’s condition.

“He was a wonderful communicator and a great teacher,” said Keys, who served as vicar general, the No.2 administrative position in the diocese, under Ziemann.

Keys said that Ziemann may live for “a matter of days or weeks.”

Ziemann’s downfall was prompted by a lawsuit filed in July, 1999 by another priest, the Rev. Jorge Hume Salas, alleging a series of sexual abuses by the bishop over a two-year period ending in August 1998. Hume Salas had been removed by Ziemann from St. Mary's in Ukiah in 1996 after the priest admitted stealing church money.

In September, 1999, church officials disclosed that the diocese was $16 million in debt after it had tapped into funds entrusted to it by parishes, schools and other church entities.

The District Attorney’s Office and Santa Rosa Police, following a six-month investigation, declined to file charges.

The district attorney at the time, Mike Mullins, said there was evidence that Ziemann may have coerced Hume into a sexual relationship, but that Hume Salas’ credibility was so damaged that it could not be proven at trial.

Bishop Daniel Walsh, who took over the diocese in 2000, mounted a fund-raising campaign to restore the diocese’s financial health.

Walsh issued a statement Monday through a spokeswoman saying “Our prayers are with Bishop Ziemann at what must be a very painful time.”

“Like all of us, he had his faults. At the same time he did a lot of good ... Now is the time to have him in our prayers,” Walsh said

Ziemann, who would readily give out his home phone number, had won high praise for his leadership.

“The man is head and shoulders over anyone we’ve ever had,” Monsignor John O’Hare said in a 1997 interview.

At the end of a healing service at St. Eugene’s Cathedral in 1995, Ziemann surprised Stephen Gallagher with an emphatic and public hug. Gallagher was the first North Coast Catholic to accuse a priest of molesting him.

Ziemann’s two immediate predecessors, Bishops Mark Hurley and John Steinbock, had failed to remove child-abusing priests, and the area’s first bishop, Leo T. Maher, left the diocese bankrupt in 1969.

Ziemann was rumored to be in line for a bishop or archbishop’s post at a larger diocese prior to his own scandal.

Keys said the bishop’s fall was “a loss for everyone,” including Ziemann, who could no loner use his talents to benefit Catholic parishioners.


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