Sacto 911: Church Official Says He Wasn't Ojeda's "Confessor"
By Andy Furillo
June 25, 2013
|The Rev. Uriel Ojeda waits for an elevator as he leaves his court during a break on his child molestation case on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 in Sacramento.|
A priest who also is a high-ranking official in the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento testified today that he was not acting in the capacity of a "confessor" or "spiritual director" when he and a private investigator told the Rev. Uriel Ojeda two years ago that he was the subject of a sexual abuse investigation.
The priest, Timothy Nondorf, said none of the rituals even remotely suggesting the Catholic sacrament of confession were at play when he and the investigator visited Ojeda on Nov. 30, 2011, at Ojeda's parish in Redding. The subject of the visit, Nondorf said, was to deliver a letter to Ojeda informing him that "a credible accusation" had been lodged against him and that he was going to be removed from the ministry.
Nondorf said that when he delivered the letter to Ojeda with the purpose of bringing him back to Sacramento to face charges, he was acting only in his role as an official representative of Bishop Jaime Soto in the investigation into allegations that Ojeda had engaged in sexual misconduct with a girl who was then 14.
"In my role as a delegate, I am the bishop's mouth and eyes and ears," Nondorf testified. "Everything I say is related back to the bishop. It is canonically impossible for me to hear a confession."
Ojeda's lawyer, Jesse Ortiz, is trying to suppress the statements prosecutors say his client made to the church officials the day he turned himself in to Sacramento police. Ortiz maintains that Ojeda's comments were protected by the "penitent's privilege." Deputy District Attorney Allison Dunham said in a past court hearing that Ojeda, 33, admitted in his conversations with the church representatives to having sexual contact with the girl on 10 occasions. Ojeda has since been charged in a seven-count complaint of molesting the girl.
In his testimony this morning in front of Sacramento Superior Court Judge Eugene L. Balonon, Nondorf did not get into the details of any of Ojeda's alleged admissions. They could come in this afternoon's testimony by Joseph Sheehan, the private investigator for the law firm that represents the diocese's corporate interests who accompanied Nondorf to Redding. Nondorf said Sheehan and Ojeda spoke for a half-hour or more.
Nondorf works as priest secretary to Bishop Soto as well as vice-chancellor of the diocese and assistant priest personnel director. He testified that he and Sheehan drove up to Redding to see Ojeda the day after the girl's father made the allegations against the priest. Besides removing Ojeda from his ministry, he said they also were directed by Soto to inform the priest that his canonical rights to salary, medical benefits and housing would be retained, but that he would have to be brought back to Sacramento to face the charges.
When they told Ojeda why they were there, Nondorf testified that the priest "seemed resigned."
"He didn't emote any surprise or anger or hurt," Nondorf testified. "He was just resigned."
Nondorf testified that he and Sheehan met with Ojeda in the living room of the rectory of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Redding. During their meeting, they told Ojeda to pack for the trip to Sacramento. On the way to Sacramento, Nondorf terstified that Ojeda made the decision on his own to turn himself into Sacramento police.
At the police station on Freeport Boulevard, Nondorf said he gave Ojeda a blessing before the police took him into custody.
"I was heartbroken," Nondorf testified, his voice wavering. "Here was a young man who was going to face a few months (in jail), if not years, of a very hard life. I thought I could offer him a few moments of compassion on what was going to be a hard and ugly life. It was all I could do."
Nondorf said "I actually got in a little bit of trouble" for offering the blessing to Ojeda. "But at that moment, I felt there was another human being who was hurting."
Under cross-examination from Ortiz, Nondorf said that when he and Sheehan visited the priest, he never told Ojeda he had a right to a lawyer under canon, civil or criminal law, or that anything he said would not be confidential. After he gave Ojeda the blessing, Nondorf affirmed under questioning from Ortiz that he told the priest to get himself a criminal lawyer and to not say anything to the police until he did.