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  Bishop Ziemann Quits Resignation Stuns Close Associates

By Mike Geniella
Press Democrat
July 22, 1999

In a move that stunned even his closest associates, Bishop Patrick Ziemann resigned Wednesday after a former Ukiah priest filed a lawsuit accusing the church leader of sexual assault.

Ziemann was in seclusion late Wednesday and unavailable for comment. Church representatives issued statements vehemently denying the accusations and saying the bishop had decided to quit "for the good of the diocese."

"The bishop has refused to buy his reputation and peace of mind from this man at the price of millions from the people of this diocese," said Ziemann's personal attorney, Joe Piasta of Santa Rosa.

The charges were brought by the Rev. Jorge Hume, who was removed by Ziemann from St. Mary's in Ukiah in 1996 after the priest admitted stealing church money.

In a complaint filed Friday in Sonoma County Superior Court, Hume alleged a series of sexual abuses by the bishop over a two-year period ending in August 1998.

Hume, a 41-year-old Costa Rica native recruited in 1992 by Ziemann to serve the diocese's Latino community, said the bishop demanded sex in exchange for his silence about Hume's theft from the Ukiah church.

Ziemann, who as leader of the 140,000-member Diocese of Santa Rosa is the North Coast's most prominent spiritual leader, is seeking an independent church investigation into the allegations in the hope his name will be cleared, according to his attorneys.

Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco will oversee the Santa Rosa Diocese until a new bishop is appointed. Levada issued a statement saying Pope John Paul II on Wednesday accepted the bishop's resignation, finishing a process that was begun by Ziemann in April.

The archbishop described himself as a lifelong friend of Ziemann's and said he joined "friends throughout California and beyond in thanking him for the energy and gifts he has shared far and wide. Our prayers and good wishes go with him."

Ziemann's plans and status within the church are unclear. Levada said Ziemann had undergone extensive evaluation and "plans to follow up on the recommendations of his medical advisers as soon as the announcement of his resignation takes place."

Ziemann's sudden resignation astonished his closest associates, who described the bishop as "shattered" by the accusations swirling around him.

Attorney Piasta said Hume's charges "threaten not only the reputation of a very holy man, but the faith of the thousands of North Bay Catholics that recognize him as what a modern American Catholic leader should be."

Monsignor Thomas Keys, Ziemann's top aide, expressed shock when he answered his personal cellular phone around 4 p.m. Wednesday.

"I don't know anything right now," he said, referring inquiries to Ziemann's lawyer. "I couldn't even begin to answer these questions that are hitting me at this time."

Police inquiry under way

Santa Rosa police said Wednesday an investigation is being conducted into Hume's allegations that he was coerced into having sex with the bishop in return for Ziemann's promise to keep silent about the reasons behind the priest's removal in 1996 as associate pastor at St. Mary's Church in Ukiah.

"We are looking into the possibility of criminal misconduct," police Cmdr. Scott Swanson said Wednesday.

Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullins said he has assigned an investigator to work with police on the investigation. Mullins and Swanson declined to comment further on the scope of the police investigation.

Diocesan representatives said Hume's allegations against Ziemann are untrue.

"Bishop Ziemann has denied that any sexual battery occurred and intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit," said diocesan attorney Paul Gaspari of San Francisco.

"The diocese and Bishop Ziemann have repeatedly stated that the diocese has not and will not make payments in response to claims to purchase silence," Gaspari said.

Lawsuit "last resort"

Irma Cordova, Hume's Santa Rosa lawyer, said Wednesday that Hume, who was ordained by Ziemann in Ukiah in 1994, filed his lawsuit as a "last resort."

Cordova said Hume was unavailable for comment. She said he has been emotionally and physically devastated by events of the past two years.

Cordova said Ziemann in 1996 began threatening to turn the priest over to police for possible criminal action surrounding his admitted theft of $1,200 in Ukiah church funds unless he agreed to engage in sex with him.

"He was coerced into committing acts that he did not want to do," Cordova said. Hume's lawsuit charges he was force to engage in acts of oral sex, masturbation and sodomy.

Cordova declined to say if Hume, who in January was placed on administrative leave after his removal from his most recent priest assignment at St. John's Church in Napa, was living in the diocese or if he has returned to Costa Rica.

Hume, who now goes by the name of Jorge Hume Salas, was in San Jose, Costa Rica, on July 8 when he signed a declaration in support of his lawsuit, according to court records.

January accusations

Events leading up to the bishop's resignation Wednesday began to unfold in January. A Ukiah nun released documents showing that while he was publicly assuring Catholics he would deal openly with priestly misconduct, Ziemann had hushed up Hume's admission to church officials in 1996 that he had stolen money from the Ukiah church's collections.

Ziemann also kept quiet accusations by four Latino men that Hume had sexually accosted them in his room at the Ukiah rectory. Ukiah police subsequently investigated the complaints earlier this year but said the statute of limitations had run out in the case. A Napa man also alleged he had been sexually accosted by Hume, but authorities there after an investigation declined to act, citing credibility of witnesses.

Ziemann's lawyer described Hume's legal "attack and financial demands on the bishop and the church" as "reprehensible."

Piasta said Hume had demanded $8 million to drop his claims. Hume's lawyer said the figure was randomly selected in the beginning "to get their attention. They were ready to sweep this case under the rug."

Catholic clergy expressed shock and dismay Wednesday at the bishop's resignation in the wake of Hume's lawsuit.

At St. Eugene's Cathedral in Santa Rosa, the Rev. Dan Kassis learned of the news when he was leaving the parish office in his workout clothes en route to the gym.

"That's making me sad. He's a wonderful man," Kassis said.

The Rev. Hans Ruygt, pastor of St. Mary's Church in Ukiah, called Wednesday's events "tragic."

Nun praises resignation

Sister Jane Kelly, who went public in January with her internal struggle to have Hume disciplined for his actions in Ukiah, said she was grateful the bishop stepped down.

"At least the wrongdoing done by some priests within our diocese who were protected by the bishop has finally come to an end," said Kelly, a nun for 52 years.

She said Ziemann "has done the noble thing by resigning."

In his lawsuit, Hume contended that beginning in late June 1996 he was repeatedly asked to engage in sex with the bishop under the threat of prosecution.

Hume said the bishop over a two-year period demanded sex "on a weekly or twice-weekly basis." Hume contended the encounters occurred at the bishop's Santa Rosa residence, in his diocesan office and in hotel rooms.

Hume charged that in 1997 he contracted a venereal disease from the bishop.

The priest contended that when he finally complained to other diocesan officials about the alleged sexual abuse, he was "kicked out of his room at the rectory in Napa and removed from the Napa parish by Ziemann."

The appointment of Archbishop Levada to oversee the Santa Rosa diocese in the interim is a departure from church practices.

When former Bishop Mark Hurley resigned in 1987, he announced his resignation but made it effective when a successor was named, so he remained for nearly a year.

When Bishop John T. Steinbock resigned in 1991, Keys, the vicar general, was placed in charge pending the selection of Ziemann a year later.

Santa Rosa attorney John Klein, a close Ziemann associate, said the bishop several months ago began taking steps to separate the diocese from a scandal.

"The threat of this lawsuit has been going on for quite a few months," Klein said. "Being aware of it and working all the while to try to resolve the thing, he's always anticipated it could end up a lawsuit against him. On that basis, he felt it wise to tender his resignation."

"I'm sure he will defend himself, but he will defend himself individually without any conflict as to the legal implications for the diocese," he said.

"He knew it would be a scandal and he didn't want the diocese to be involved in a scandal that is personally directed to him."

Staff Writer Bob Klose contributed to this report.

PHOTO: 1 color by Kent Porter/Press Democrat

1 b&w by UKIAH DAILY JOURNAL

1. Bishop Patrick Ziemann at a communion ceremony on May 9 in Rohnert Park.

2. The Rev. Jorge Hume, who was removed by Bishop Ziemann from St. Mary's in Ukiah after admitting to stealing, has alleged a series of sexual abuses by the bishop.

Infobox: G. Patrick Ziemann

Born Sept. 13, 1941, Pasadena

Ordained a priest for the archdiocese of Los Angeles, 1967

Ordained an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, 1987

Appointed bishop of Santa Rosa, 1999

Diocese of Santa Rosa

Established 1962

Covers six North Coast counties serving Catholics from Petaluma to Oregon

140,000 parishioners

43 parishes

100 priests

5,000 students in diocese schools.

Santa Rosa bishops

Leo T. Maher, 1962-69

Mark Hurley, 1969-87

John T. Steinbock, 1987-91

G. Patrick Ziemann, 1992-99 Under Fire: Denies ex-Ukiah priest's charges of sexual abuse

 
 

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