Priest's Statements Weren't Confidential, Da's Expert Says
July 2, 2013
The prosecution's expert witness testified Tuesday that the Rev. Uriel Ojeda had no expectation of confidentiality when he allegedly made admissions to a church official and a private investigator that he molested an underage parish girl.
A priest who was acting as a representative of Bishop Jaime Soto and an investigator for a law firm that represents the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento were both acting in "external" and not spiritual capacities when they confronted Ojeda two years ago about the sexual abuse allegations, according to the testimony of Monsignor Steven Callahan.
"The topic is not the priest's spiritual life, but information that would have come to the bishop ... and his responsibilities to act and report it to the civil authorities," Callahan, the judicial vicar for the San Diego diocese, testified in Sacramento Superior Court.
The conversation Ojeda had with the bishop's representative, Father Timothy Nondorf, and the private investigator, Joseph Sheehan, who was working on contract with the law firm of Sweeney & Greene, "had nothing to do with spiritual growth and development and everything to do with an allegation brought to diocesan authorities that they needed to take action on," Callahan testified.
Callahan's testimony came in a hearing where Ojeda and his attorney, Jesse Ortiz, are trying to keep the statements the priest made to Nondorf and Sheehan out of his upcoming child molestation trial. They contend the conversation was covered by the clergy-penitent's privilege in the state's Evidence Code.
Deputy District Attorney Allison Dunham contends the contact Nondorf and Sheehan had with Ojeda was prompted by the accusations of sexual misconduct lodged against the priest by the father of the girl who was under 14 years old. Nondorf and Sheehan visited Ojeda at his parish in Redding on Nov. 30, 2011, for the purpose of removing him from his ministry and bringing him back to Sacramento to face charges, not for any spiritual reason, and his statements should therefore be admissable, the prosecution believes.
Nondorf and Sheehan later told Sacramento police about Ojeda's statement to them. The details of the priest's statement have not been made public, although Dunham generally described Ojeda's alleged actions at a bail review hearing in January 2012.
Judge Eugene L. Balonon is expected to rule Wednesday on the defense motion to exclude the statements.