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  Archdiocese Moves to Fill Void Left by Bishop Priests Prepare for Weekend Services

By Bob Klose
Press Democrat
July 24, 1999

The Archdiocese of San Francisco moved to fill the leadership vacuum in the Santa Rosa Diocese on Friday as parish priests prepared for the first weekend of worship since Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann resigned and confessed to having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a priest.

Archbishop William Levada dispatched his communications director Maurice Healy to set up an office in Santa Rosa to help administer the diocese until Pope John Paul II names a new bishop, possibly within six months.

"The archbishop wanted me to help out if I could, helping people understand and talk about the issues," Healy said Friday. "The critical period is now. The emotional shock is now. People are stunned, looking for ground. So I guess it is an important thing to focus as many resources as you can on those issues right now."

Healy met with leaders and staff of the diocese who were suddenly left without a leader when Rome announced it had accepted Ziemann's resignation on Wednesday.

He said he expects the archbishop to visit the diocese soon after he returns from vacation, but was not sure when.

Meanwhile, diocesean priests who provide the front-line pastoral duties to the North Coast's 140,000 Catholics prepared to meet their parishioners for the first time since the popular leader stepped down and admitted the sexual misconduct.

Father Denis O'Sullivan, along with Father Gerry Gormley, will say Mass seven times today and Sunday at St. Rose Catholic Church next door to the bishop's Chancery office. On Friday, he fielded calls from parishioners seeking guidance even as he was preparing his thoughts for the weekend services.

"I suspect there will be more people calling. It is still sinking in. People are digesting it," he said. "There is sadness and disillusionment. I haven't experienced anyone displaying anger, but I suspect it is out there."

O'Sullivan said he will attempt to acknowledge Ziemann's positive accomplishments, encourage a spirit of forgiveness and call for a communal effort of healing.

"There is grieving going on. We need when we are hurting to find new strength to pull together as a community, to find hope and light in the darkness and to move forward to finding forgiveness," he said.

He expects the process to be a long one.

"What we do over the weekend is not going to resolve or answer the questions and satisfy people. But it will be a beginning," he said.

At St. Eugene's Cathedral, Associate Pastor Bruce Lamb said Monsignor James Gaffey would be speaking at all the Masses today and Sunday.

If he were at the pulpit, he said, he would encourage Catholics not to lose faith.

"The tragic events of the past week changed nothing pertaining to our faith," he said.

Lamb said nothing can take away Ziemann's accomplishments as bishop since 1992.

"Bishop Ziemann, however, is a man, a human being, who suffers from the human condition just like you and me," he said.

He encouraged Catholics to pray Ziemann will find forgiveness and peace and for them to commit themselves to a livelier faith.

Faith in the diocese leadership was tested this week by a chain of charges and counter charges of sexual misconduct that left Ziemann with nowhere to turn but to Rome, where he tendered his resignation.

The beginning of Ziemann's undoing as Santa Rosa's fourth bishop originated in Ukiah in 1996, when the bishop reassigned Father Jorge Hume after the St. Mary of the Angels priest stole $1,200 in church funds.

Hume later accused Ziemann of coercing him into having sex or risk being turned in to police for the thefts. He demanded the bishop and diocese pay him as much as $8 million in damages.

When the bishop and diocese refused, Hume filed a criminal complaint with the Santa Rosa Police Department five weeks ago and last week filed suit in Sonoma County Superior Court.

Hume, 41, has since changed his name to Jorge Hume Salas and now lives in Costa Rica.

In the wake of the suit, Ziemann resigned on Wednesday. On Thursday, he admitted having had sex with Hume, but said it was not forced but consensual.

The developments rocked the diocese that had looked to Ziemann to lead the Catholic community past a series of scandals involving sexual misconduct against young boys. Ziemann had built a reputation for establishing ministries and social programs sympathetic to homeless, AIDS sufferers, and a growing Hispanic population. He was especially admired for his successful efforts reaching out to young people.

Ziemann remained in seclusion Friday and unavailable for comment.

 
 

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