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  Ziemann Knew about Warnings of Hume's Past

By Mike Geniella and B.W. Rose
Press Democrat
August 7, 1999

Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann waived church rules and ignored warnings from Roman Catholic leaders in Central America when he ordained Jorge Hume Salas, the priest whose allegations of sexual liaisons resulted in the bishop's resignation.

Hume's rapid rise to the priesthood just 14 months after arriving in Santa Rosa in 1992 is the subject of an ongoing investigation by church authorities.

It includes a review of correspondence between church leaders in Costa Rica and Bolivia that say Hume tried to pass himself off as a priest. Copies of those letters were provided to Ziemann several months before he ordained Hume in November 1993.

Ziemann, who resigned as bishop on July 21, is the subject of a civil lawsuit and a criminal investigation stemming from allegations that he extorted Hume for sex.

An attorney for Ziemann confirmed Friday that the bishop was aware of the Costa Rican concerns but allowed Hume to become a priest after reviewing yet another church document, saying church officials in Honduras absolved him of any misconduct.

That letter was dated 1983 -nine years before the archbishop in San Jose, Costa Rica, warned Bolivian church leaders about Hume's background.

"The bishop was aware there had been problems, and that they represented an impediment to his ordination here," said Joseph Piasta, who is representing Ziemann in the civil lawsuit filed by Hume.

"But after he reviewed a dispensation granted by a bishop in Honduras, the bishop believed it was OK to move ahead because Salas had since completed the required theological studies," Piasta said.

Hume's studies, however, are part of the investigation initiated by Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco, who assumed authority over the six-county Diocese of Santa Rosa following Ziemann's resignation.

Documents released Friday by the archdiocese indicate that Ziemann didn't follow standards set by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops for the United States, which would have required Hume to spend at least two years in training in the diocese before being ordained as a priest.

Levada also issued a written statement contradicting Piasta: "In my reading of the file, and I am fluent in Spanish, I do not see an indication that the diocese knew of Father Hume's prior action before he was ordained."

After learning of the conflict, Maurice Healy, the archbishop's spokesman, said Levada assumed in making his statement that he had seen all the files surrounding the priest's ordination.

"Maybe he hasn't," Healy conceded.

Ziemann, who hasn't spoken with reporters or appeared in public since his resignation, has admitted having a sexual relationship with Hume. But he denied allegations from the lawsuit, which accuses the bishop of demanding sex in return for protecting Hume from criminal prosecution after he admitted stealing money from St. Mary's Church in Ukiah.

Hume's attorney denied the allegations that her client impersonated a priest in his native Costa Rica, and said he was properly ordained because of the dispensation granted to him by the Honduran bishop.

"This is just another attempt to smear my client. He's done nothing wrong. At issue is the bishop's conduct," Cordova said.

As word of the Costa Rica letter spread Friday, church leaders expressed surprise that Ziemann would have gone through with Hume's ordination.

The Rev. Hans Ruygt, pastor of St. Mary's, and Sister Jane Kelly, who served as Hume's religious supervisor during his training, said they were deeply troubled by the admission that the bishop knew of the charges before making Hume a priest.

"If the bishop or other church authorities actually saw this letter at the time and ignored it, it is shocking beyond belief," Ruygt said. "It angers me that we had to deal with someone whose background was in such question."

Hume arrived in the Diocese of Santa Rosa shortly after Ziemann was appointed bishop in 1992. He was assigned by Ziemann to St. Mary's in Ukiah where church leaders were told to prepare him for the priesthood.

Ruygt said he became diocesan director of vocations, a post responsible for reviewing applicants for priesthood, shortly before Hume became a church deacon in 1993. "I did not know of these concerns," he said. "I never saw this letter. I assumed his background had been checked."

Kelly, whose disclosure of Hume's thefts from the church earlier set in motion the events leading to Ziemann's resignation, also was shocked.

"At the time I questioned whether Jorge was prepared for ordination after such a short time in the diocese, and I asked but never received from the bishop documentation of his past training," Kelly said. "It's unthinkable that the bishop knew Jorge had been accused of passing himself off as a priest and never said a word to any of us."

Church leaders in Costa Rica, responding to an inquiry about Hume from counterparts in Bolivia, said that he had never been ordained despite reports he had been acting as a priest.

The letter also cited documents from the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., that noted that Hume had been questioned about his credentials after concerns were raised about his representing himself as a priest from Costa Rica.

The letter cited accounts of three priests who said Hume passed himself off as a clergyman although he had dropped out of a Costa Rican seminary.

Through his attorney, Hume denied the accounts, contending he had never met the Costa Rica priests cited in the 1992 document.

Providing the first account of Hume's background, Cordova outlined a religious history that she said dates back to when Hume, now 41, was a boy in his native Costa Rica.

"He always wanted to be a priest," she said. "Father Salas was 15 or 16 when he was supposedly ordained a local priest by the name of Rosendo Salas Valenciano."

For the next five years, Cordova said Hume helped the priest celebrate Mass and perform other church duties. "It wasn't until he went to Mexico to further his studies that he learned he didn't go through the proper ordination to become a priest," she said.

Cordova said Hume was advised to seek out a church leader who would properly train him, and forgive his transgressions. Cordova provided a 1983 letter signed by Honduran Bishop Geraldo Scarpone granting a dispensation to Hume, effectively erasing his past and allowing him to continue to study for the priesthood.

For the next decade, she said Hume roamed Latin America and the United States looking for a spiritual home.

Since being relieved of his duties by Ziemann earlier this year, Cordova said Hume has followed Latin American custom by using both the name of his father, Hume, and mother, Salas. While at St. Mary's in Ukiah, as well as while living in Chicago and Newark, he used the last name of Hume, but he went by Hume Salas while in Latin America. As for his credentials, Cordova said he graduated with degrees in religious theology and philosophy from Intercontinental University and the University of La Salle, both in Mexico City.

"He has the proper training," she said. "The dispensation allowed him to become a priest."

 
 

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