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  Bishop Admits Sex with Priest Ziemann: Affair Consensual, Not Coerced

By Bob Klose and Mike Geniella
Press Democrat
July 23, 1999

Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann had sex with a former Ukiah priest, but it was consensual, not coerced, Ziemann's Santa Rosa attorney said Thursday.

Claims of sexual coercion brought by the Rev. Jorge Hume in a Superior Court lawsuit and in a complaint to Santa Rosa police are not true and Ziemann is prepared to make his case before a Sonoma County jury, attorney Joe Piasta said.

Ziemann's acknowledgement of sexual relations with the priest came one day after he resigned as bishop of the Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese and less than a week after the lawsuit was filed against him and the diocese.

The admission, lawsuit and police investigation are the culmination of events that began three years ago when Ziemann reassigned Hume from St. Mary of the Angels Church in Ukiah where the priest had stolen money from the church.

Hume charges Ziemann used the threat of going to police to force sexual favors for two years ending last August and demanded damages of up to $8 million.

But Ziemann refused to give in to what Piasta called "blackmail and extortion." Piasta said Ziemann resigned out of concern for the 140,000 members of the diocese and so that he could confront the allegations. And he acknowledged that the bishop did have sexual relations with Hume.

"The bishop did regretfully have a personal consensual relationship with Father Hume that was inappropriate for both of them as priests. It is unfortunate that Father Hume and his attorneys are now using this consensual relationship as a weapon against Ziemann and the diocese," Piasta said.

"Bishop Ziemann is a very holy man, but he is not without human frailty like the rest of us," he said.

Piasta refused to specify the sexual activity between Ziemann and Hume, saying that is a private matter between two adults.

"There will be an appropriate time for people to delve into these priests' privacy," he said. "I can say we would classify it as sexual."

"But it was consensual between two adults," Piasta insisted in an interview in his office in Santa Rosa. "It is not sexual abuse, and there is no extortion on our part."

Regardless of the consensual nature of the relations, the admission by the bishop is bound to send still more shock waves through the North Coast diocese, which now finds itself without a leader and under the temporary administration of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

The Santa Rosa diocese, extending from Petaluma to Oregon and covering six counties, has been pummeled with allegations of sexual misconduct by priests beginning shortly after Ziemann arrived seven years ago. In the past seven years, five priests have been held accountable for their actions. The diocese has paid as much as $1.3 million in settlements for molestations of young boys and its reputation has been sullied.

Then on Thursday, the man the diocese had hoped would deal with the issue revealed that he also had engaged in sexual conduct considered inappropriate because of a priest's vow of celibacy and the church's moral position that considers homosexuality a sin.

Piasta and his co-counsel, Adrienne M. Moran, said issues raised by Hume should be addressed under canon law, the church's system for settling disputes between priests and members.

"If Father Hume truly wanted justice, he could have sought it through canon law," Moran said.

But if it is a court fight Hume wants, Piasta said, Ziemann is prepared.

"Hume should start preparing for a trial right now. We're going to find a jury of 12 Sonoma County citizens and do it," Piasta said.

Ziemann, 57, remained in seclusion and unavailable for comment.

"He's getting therapy," Piasta said. "He's OK, but he is in great pain. He is being taken care of by close friends."

Piasta said Ziemann has been unavailable to discuss the issue in light of the police investigation.

The police investigation, independent of the lawsuit, was launched after Hume filed a formal criminal complaint five weeks ago accusing the bishop of sexual battery over a two-year period.

Santa Rosa police said Thursday that officers have interviewed more than a dozen people and traveled to two states in the investigation into Hume's allegations.

Police Cmdr. Scott Swanson said the investigation focuses on whether unspecified evidence provided by Hume's lawyers can be substantiated. Officers were gathering evidence Thursday at the bishop's Santa Rosa home.

"We are very narrowly focusing on the issue as to whether or not there is a substantive violation of criminal law," he said. Swanson said police will pass along "all those findings to the district attorney, but we have quite a few people to speak to and evidence to evaluate."

So far the investigation has taken police to St. Louis, where Hume was sent in June 1996 to undergo psychological evaluation at St. Michaels Community, described as a healing place for priests and brothers, following his removal by Ziemann as associate pastor of St. Mary's Church in Ukiah. Hume earlier had admitted to Ziemann stealing money from church coffers.

By then, the bishop had learned that the priest also faced accusations that he had sexually accosted four young Latino men in his room at the Ukiah church rectory. Hume, in his lawsuit, contends Ziemann came to St. Louis at the end of the two-week evaluation in 1996 and forced him to engage in sex acts in a hotel room under the threat of informing police about his misconduct in Ukiah if he refused.

Hume contends the incidents thereafter continued on a weekly, sometimes twice-weekly basis, for the next two years.

If police can substantiate any of Hume's claims that he was coerced into having sex, the bishop could face criminal charges, according to police.

Hume, 41, is believed to be in Costa Rica and is unavailable for comment.

Irma Cordova, Hume's attorney, said Thursday she's confident the police investigation will validate the priest's claims.

"My client has cooperated fully with police investigators. At this point, he has nothing to hide. He is the victim, not the bishop," she said.

Church lawyer Paul Gaspari said the diocese will not "engage in any public debate of the evidence. We intend to seek a dismissal of the lawsuit at our earliest opportunity."

Ziemann supporters rallied to his side Thursday, contending he is being victimized by a priest who has admitted theft and has been the subject of two police investigations in Ukiah and Napa into sexual misconduct against young Latino church members. No charges were filed.

"We cannot in all fairness and objectivity be quick to judge the current allegations against the bishop by former priest Jorge Hume," said Edward Byrom, coordinator of the diocese's detention and AIDS outreach programs in Mendocino and Lake counties.

Byrom said that "this whole sad, disgusting scenario is about extorting money from the diocese."

The Rev. Hans Ruygt, pastor of a 1,000-member Ukiah church that's been deeply divided over Ziemann's handling of the Hume case, urged parishioners to not rush to judgment.

"As we deal with whatever ugly news may come out of this, let us be firm in our commitment to justice, but also united to Christ in his mercy," Ruygt advised church members in a special bulletin that will be distributed this weekend.

"We do not know all the facts in the Hume versus Ziemann case. We should not be too quick to judge," Ruygt said.

PHOTO: 2 b&w mugs

Bishop Patrick Ziemann, right, now admits a relationship with ex-priest Joge Hume.

Infobox: Statement on Bishop Ziemann

Statement issued Thursday by Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann's personal lawyer, Joe Piasta

As you all know, serious allegations of misconduct have been filed against our Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann by Father Jorge Salas, a priest in this diocese. As I have said in my earlier statement to the press, those charges of sexual battery, defamation and other violations are not true. Bishop Ziemann has nobly resigned his position out of loyalty and concern for the people of the diocese. He refused to give in to the $8 million dollar demand made by Father Salas and his attorneys.

However, the Bishop did regretfully have a personal consensual relationship with Father Salas that was inappropriate for both of them as priests. It is unfortunate that Father Salas and his attorneys are now using this consensual relationship as a weapon against Bishop Ziemann and the Diocese. Bishop Ziemann is a very holy man, but he is not without human frailty like the rest of us. The Bishop has sought extensive personal and spiritual counseling regarding this relationship and asks for your prayers and support in this regard.

In the meantime, we intend to vigorously defend the Bishop against these allegations which we are convinced are motivated solely out of greed. We are confident that the Bishop will be fully exonerated from these allegations and we hope that his people will show the same compassion and understanding for the Bishop that he has shown for them over his years of devoted service to this community, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.Jorge Hume: Mysterious figure at the center of controversy.

 
 

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