Ukiah Pastor Talks of Theft

By Mike Geniella
Press Democrat
January 25, 1999

The pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church on Sunday openly addressed parishioners about a collection plate theft by their parish priest that was covered up by church officials.

"A priest must be held accountable for his actions," said Hans Ruygt, St. Mary's pastor for the past four years.

The theft by the Rev. Jorge Hume, now a priest in Napa, happened in 1996 but resurfaced this month after Sister Jane Kelly, a nun in Ukiah for 20 years, released her letters of protest written to Bishop Patrick Ziemann. She said Hume's reassignment to another parish was "only perpetuating the real possibility of repeating his scandalous actions."

Her letters triggered complaints by members of St. Mary's Latino community that reports of sexual misconduct by Hume brought to Ziemann in 1996 before the theft had gone ignored.

Ruygt appealed to hundreds of St. Mary's parishioners during weekend Masses to continue to regard the church as a symbol of light even when there's "darkness within."

Afterward, many church members praised Ruygt for his candor.

"I thought he handled a difficult situation very well. It's a shame this has happened," said parishioner Pamela Rowney. The Ukiah church has about 1,100 parishioners.

Ruygt told a rapt congregation that in May 1996 Hume had admitted to him that he stole at least $1,200 from church collections. Church officials have estimated that the losses over a two-year period are closer to $10,000. The diocese reimbursed St. Mary's $4,100 for the theft, according to members of the church finance committee.

Ruygt had confronted Hume after conducting an investigation into the missing funds with the aid of a Ukiah police detective.

Ziemann removed Hume from St. Mary's in June 1996. He asked Ruygt and other local church leaders, including then Ukiah Police Chief Fred Keplinger, not to press criminal charges against Hume. Ziemann has said he felt the evidence was inconclusive.

Hume could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.

Ruygt explained Sunday why he agreed to remain silent after Hume admitted the theft to him. "I thought the matter was over. There had been a problem, and the priest was removed," he said.

Ruygt said he did not then know of specific complaints of sexual misconduct made by four young men -- all over age 18 -- who have said they were sexually accosted by Hume while he acted as primary priest to the local Latino community.

Ziemann has acknowledged that a month before the 1996 church thefts were uncovered he heard of the sexual misconduct allegations from a delegation of Latino leaders who came to his Santa Rosa office.

"It saddens me that they didn't feel comfortable enough to come to me with these stories. But I suppose if you've felt betrayed by one priest, why trust another?" Ruygt said.

The Diocese of Santa Rosa, with 140,000 Catholics stretching from Sonoma County to the Oregon border, has paid more than $2 million to settle claims against four North Coast priests who sexually abused teen-age boys. The victims condemned the church hierarchy for ignoring allegations of sexual abuse and simply transferring the priests to another parish, where they could again abuse young men.

Ruygt, who also serves as vocations director for the Diocese of Santa Rosa, said notoriety about priest misconduct makes it even more difficult for the church to recruit men and women to become priests and nuns. "They cast a shadow over everyone," he said.

Ruygt urged that if anyone knows of any specific incident of sexual misconduct to contact him. "I am here to serve you," he pledged.

Ruygt, who is serving his first assignment as pastor at St. Mary's, said later he spoke out because "there wasn't any choice. I knew I had to publicly address the issue."


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