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  Ukiah Priest's Misconduct Kept under Wraps by Sr's Ziemann Accused of Theft, Sexual Abuse

By Mike Geniella
Press Democrat
January 22, 1999

At a time when he was publicly assuring Catholics he would deal openly with priestly misconduct, Bishop Patrick Ziemann hushed up the case of a Ukiah priest who had admitted stealing money from St. Mary's Church and had been accused by four men of sexually accosting them.

Ziemann acknowledges hearing about the 1996 sexual misconduct allegations but defends his treatment of the Rev. Jorge Hume, who is now a priest in Napa. Ziemann contends full disclosure of such sensitive matters is impossible because of a need to follow church guidelines requiring him to consult with all parties as well as his senior advisers before acting.

"In light of that full consultation, I had to make a prudential judgment in this case," Ziemann said Wednesday. "I believe every decision I've made since has been fair to everyone involved."

But some of those involved -- a nun at St. Mary's, Latino community leaders and Ukiah's former police chief -- are raising questions about the bishop's refusal to openly discuss Hume. The collection plate theft and allegations of sexual impropriety happened more than two years ago but resurfaced this month after Sister Jane Kelly, a nun at St. Mary's for 20 years, released a series of letters condemning Ziemann for sending Hume to another church instead of publicly prosecuting him for the theft.

Ziemann, spiritual head of the 140,000-member Diocese of Santa Rosa that stretches from Sonoma County to the Oregon border, also enlisted the silence of Ukiah's longtime police chief, Fred Keplinger, in the theft of what St. Mary's leaders say was at least $10,000.

"It was the only time I ever allowed my religion to interfere with my professional duties. It was a mistake that I deeply regret," said Keplinger, a St. Mary's parishioner who retired in 1998 as police chief. The church refused to bring theft charges against Hume and Keplinger couldn't pursue the case without its cooperation.

Ziemann in July 1996 removed Hume from St. Mary's. The bishop said Hume spent a year studying English and doing volunteer work with AIDS patients in Healdsburg. Ziemann said he decided Hume deserved "a second chance," and returned Hume to work in February 1998 as a parish priest at St. John's Church in Napa.

Hume did not return repeated phone calls placed over 10 days to his Napa church.

Especially troubling to some members of the church's Latino community was Ziemann's refusal to openly confront other allegations about Hume, now 41, who went to Ukiah in 1992 as soon as he arrived in the diocese.

Turned over tapes

In April 1996, five members of the region's Latino community -three from Ukiah and two from Santa Rosa -- met with the bishop in Santa Rosa. They say they turned over to Ziemann tape-recorded statements of four young men -- all over age 18 -- who alleged the priest had sexually accosted them.

That was a month before Hume confessed to stealing what he said was only $1,200 from the weekly collection. It was five months after an emotional service for hundreds of the diocese's Catholics in which Ziemann urged healing from the church's sexual abuse scandal and promised he would openly confront charges of priestly misconduct.

By 1996, the Santa Rosa diocese had paid more than $2 million to settle claims against four North Coast priests who sexually abused teen-age boys up to 20 years earlier. The victims said the church hierarchy had been told about the sexual abuse but reassigned the offending priests to other parishes where they again preyed on young men.

The alleged incidents on the Ukiah tape ranged from sexual groping to masturbation of one man while he was sleeping, according to one of the men who says he was accosted but who would not let his name be used. His account was confirmed by another source who was present at the taping but would not allow her name to be used.

Ramon Mendoza, a Ukiah store owner and leader in the local Latino community, said he was present when the statements were taped and was aware of the sexual nature of their contents. Mendoza attended the Santa Rosa meeting and said Ziemann was given the recorded statements and asked to take action against Hume.

"We were told he would take care of everything," said Mendoza.

Doesn't recall tapes

Ziemann said he met with the five Latino leaders to hear their concerns about Hume's alleged sexual misconduct. But he said he doesn't recall receiving any taped statements. "I don't have anything like that," he said. The bishop declined further comment, saying that he can't publicly address personnel issues involving priests.

Ziemann said he is concerned that church representatives who are involved in the Hume case could face defamation lawsuits depending on their public comments. "This situation is made much more difficult because of the confidentiality issues involved," he said.

But Kelly, the nun who was Hume's spiritual adviser, said Hume should be forced to publicly acknowledge the theft in Ukiah and ordered to make full restitution.

"He stole from his own church. He's suspected of abusing young men. This must stop," said Kelly, 68, who has worked in the Ukiah Valley for more than two decades.

The Rev. Tim O'Sullivan, pastor of the Napa church where Hume now works, said Ziemann told him Hume had some problems in Ukiah but did not go into detail. "I quickly learned much more," said O'Sullivan.

O'Sullivan declined to discuss Hume's work in the Napa parish or whether he had received any complaints of misconduct. "The current situation is awkward," said O'Sullivan.

Priest retains lawyer

Hume has retained Santa Rosa lawyer Irma Perez Cordova to represent him in his dealings with the bishop's office. It is an unusual step because under church canon law, priests take a vow of obedience to their bishop. Cordova did not return repeated phone calls placed over a three-day period.

Mendoza initially was reluctant to speak publicly about Hume. He eventually changed his mind because, "We want to see changes in how the diocese handles these problems. Our young people need to be protected."

A month before his meeting with the Ukiah Latino leaders, Ziemann learned on May 27, 1996, that Hume had confessed to stealing money from St. Mary's collections.

Kelly, whose letters to Ziemann focused on the collection plate theft, said she asked the bishop to remove Hume as a priest and to publicly disclose the stealing. But the nun said she has been repeatedly rebuffed by the bishop and his aides for the past two years.

Kelly, who said she can no longer in good conscience keep quiet, disclosed internal church documents detailing circumstances surrounding Hume's ouster from the Ukiah church.

"It's a disgrace," said Kelly.

The Ukiah Police Department in May 1996 prepared a report on the parish theft, but never publicly disclosed its contents. It released the report to The Press Democrat when asked last week.

Ziemann took over the diocese in 1992 as the molestation scandal began to unfold and has the sympathy of many Catholics for having to deal with crimes that occurred under previous leaders.

Pledge to parish

In November 1995, Ziemann told a crowd of more than 300 parishioners who attended a special Mass at St. Eugene's Cathedral in Santa Rosa that he was committed to stopping sexual abuse within the church.

"I will respond to any credible allegations," Ziemann said at the time.

But Kelly said six months later the bishop was pressuring Keplinger, St. Mary's pastor Hans Ruygt, and the church's finance committee to keep quiet about Hume's theft.

Kelly was angered after Ziemann in May 1996 intervened on behalf of Hume. He directed Ruygt not to press criminal charges, despite police contentions that there was enough evidence to charge the priest with felony embezzlement, burglary and grand theft. Although unwilling to prosecute Hume, Ziemann ordered that St. Mary's be reimbursed by the diocese. St. Mary's received about $4,100 from the diocese to compensate for the stolen money, said Russ Libert, head of the church finance committee.

Kelly, who has been a nun for 52 years, said she asked Ziemann and other church leaders on at least four occasions beginning in August 1996 to take action against Hume for the thefts.

"To me, the scandal is not so much that Jorge stole, but that he is allowed to escape prosecution and is not required to make public restitution for his acts of thievery," Kelly wrote the bishop in a letter dated Aug. 2, 1996.

In another letter, dated March 22, 1998, Kelly said she was "utterly astonished" that Hume had been assigned to another parish, and expressed fear that doing so "is only perpetuating the real possibility of repeating his scandalous actions."

How thefts occurred

Interviews with Kelly and 13 other Ukiah church and police representatives, and internal church documents and police reports provide details of the thefts.

On May 28, 1996, the day after Hume was confronted at St. Mary's about the thefts, Ziemann traveled to Ukiah to discuss the situation with pastor Ruygt, Keplinger, St. Mary's pastoral associate Mary Leittem Thomas and members of the church finance committee: Libert, Marjorie Maize, Henry Brooks, Norma Alessie, Rod Vargas and Josie Vargas. Finance committee members demanded the meeting after questioning the bishop's decision not to press theft charges against Hume. The discussion focused on the theft.

During the sometimes emotional meeting, Keplinger led the argument in favor of Hume being criminally prosecuted. Eventually, Ziemann overrode everyone's concerns, contending he could best deal with the situation and save the church further embarrassment, according to the retired police chief and others in attendance.

Keplinger said last week he was wrong to keep silent at the bishop's request.

"I helped send one of my own officers to prison because we found out he was stealing money from suspects that he had arrested. There's no doubt in my mind the bishop should have done the same," said Keplinger.

Ziemann said it was in everyone's best interest -- St. Mary's, Hume's and parishioners' -- to not publicly air circumstances surrounding the case. He said the evidence against Hume was inconclusive.

Ziemann noted that Latino parishioners in Ukiah were sharply divided over Hume's removal. "He has his supporters," said the bishop. St. Mary's parishioners credit Hume with expanding Latino participation in the church. In Ukiah and Napa, Hume's role as a priest has primarily focused on working within the Latino communities, presiding over Spanish-speaking Masses, performing weddings, conducting funerals and organizing youth groups.

May be reassigned

Ziemann said "proper protocols" were put in place at the Napa church to prevent any further misconduct on Hume's part. Nevertheless, the bishop said he is contemplating re-assigning Hume to a non-parish role within the diocese in the next several months.

"I think the concerns will then become moot," said Ziemann.

Hume, a native of Costa Rica, arrived in the diocese in 1992. He sought further religious training and expressed a desire to be ordained a priest so he could minister to Latinos.

Kelly said Hume told her he had studied theology, philosophy and psychology at the University of New Mexico before moving in 1990 to New York City, where he worked for two years. Ziemann ordained Hume a deacon in September 1994 and then a priest in May 1995.

In July 1995, Ruygt, the Ukiah pastor, was becoming concerned about missing cash that he knew certain parishioners regularly dropped into the collection baskets, according to a nine-page report written by Ukiah Police Detective Mariano Guzman. Guzman is a St. Mary's parishioner.

Ruygt asked detective Guzman to place police surveillance cameras inside the church office. As associate pastor, Hume knew about the hidden cameras. The thefts stopped temporarily, but by early 1996 they resumed.

Guzman later determined that Hume was removing bank bags from the safe, breaking a seal and removing cash, according to his report. The remaining money was put into a matching bank bag that could be freshly sealed and returned to the safe, according to Guzman's report. Hume was tripped up when Ruygt and other church staff started to use numbered bags for specific collections, according to Guzman.

After being confronted by Ruygt about midnight on May 27, 1996, Hume confessed to the thefts and made a drawing of the church sanctuary to show where he had hidden the matching bank bags and later switched them after taking the money from individual collections, according to Guzman's report. Guzman, off duty at the time, heard Hume confess to Ruygt, according to his report.

Police couldn't charge

Guzman said that because the church refused to press charges, the police department's hands were tied.

"There wasn't anything more we could do. It was very frustrating to have put in all that work and then find out they wouldn't sign a complaint," he said.

A young male was in Hume's room at St. Mary's rectory when he was confronted about the church thefts, according to Ukiah police. Church sources said Ziemann several months earlier had personally ordered Hume not to allow young male visitors to stay overnight in his room at the church rectory after questions were raised.

Keplinger said while he agreed to keep the theft case under wraps, he warned the bishop, "that if I ever learned that someone had indeed been sexually abused by the priest, I would personally track him down and arrest him."

 
 

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