Archbishop: Ziemann in Dark on Hume Levada Accepts Bishop's Claim about Letter
By Mike Geniella
August 8, 1999
San Francisco Archbishop William Levada said Saturday he has accepted G. Patrick Ziemann's personal assurance that as bishop he learned of concerns about a Ukiah priest only after the priest had been ordained.
Levada said he talked directly to Ziemann about conflicting accounts of when the bishop learned that the Rev. Jorge Hume Salas had been accused of passing himself off as a priest in Latin America before arriving in the Diocese of Santa Rosa in 1992.
Ziemann's attorney, Joe Piasta, said he erred Friday in explaining that Ziemann knew about the Costa Rican concerns before ordaining Hume, but accepted him into the priesthood anyway because a church bishop in Honduras in 1983 had signed a statement absolving Hume of any past misconduct.
Piasta said that he, too, talked on Saturday with Ziemann, who is visiting family in Orange County. "I got it wrong the first time. I flipflopped the facts," Piasta said.
At issue are circumstances surrounding the 1993 ordination of Hume, whose allegations of sexual coercion against Ziemann resulted in the bishop's resignation on July 21. Since Levada assumed oversight of the diocese, an investigation is being made into Hume's rapid rise to the priesthood just 14 months after he was accepted into the diocese.
In question is when Ziemann learned of a June 1992 letter written by the Archbishop of Costa Rica to Bolivian church authorities which outlined concerns that Hume had passed himself off as a priest in Costa Rica at least 10 years before being ordained in Ukiah.
The letter was obtained Thursday by The Press Democrat from religious leaders within the diocese who say Hume brought the letter to their attention several weeks before his ordination. The letter cites accounts of three Costa Rican priests who said Hume was acting as a clergyman although he had dropped out of a Costa Rican seminary.
Hume, through his Santa Rosa attorney, Irma Cordova, said that he never met the Costa Rica priests cited in the document. She said the Costa Rica problems stem from a time when Hume mistakenly thought he had been properly ordained at age 16 as a priest by an elderly priest in his hometown.
About five years later while pursuing religious studies in Mexico, Hume realized he had been acting improperly, said Cordova. In 1983, he traveled to Honduras to study under a Honduran bishop who granted him the dispensation he needed to continue his quest to become a priest.
The letter and the time of its receipt by the bishop are the subject of conflicting accounts.
Church sources in the Santa Rosa diocese said Friday that they learned of the letter's existence in 1993 after Hume feared it might stop his ordination which was to occur in November of that year.
Initially Friday, Levada's office said that a preliminary review of confidential church files contained "some indication" that the Costa Rica concerns were known prior to Hume's ordination. But there were also indications the bishop might have received the letter after the fact, according to Levada spokesman Maurice Healy.
Later Friday, the archbishop revised his statement to say that it appeared the letter became known after Hume's ordination. "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," Levada said.
When Levada learned that his revised statement conflicted with Piasta, the archbishop said he decided Friday night to call Ziemann and talk to him directly.
According to Levada, he learned that a religious community in Bolivia sent a copy of the Costa Rica letter to Ziemann's attention after some members received an invitation to Hume's ordination in Ukiah. The Bolivian community told Ziemann that Hume had been released from the order when it learned of the Costa Rica church concerns, said Levada.
Levada's comments were contained in a letter sent Saturday to all 43 parishes in the Santa Rosa diocese and to The Press Democrat in response to an editorial on Friday urging candor and responsibility to the public as he takes up his interim duties.
Levada's response is to be published Monday on the newspaper's opinion page.
Speaking to parishioners at a Saturday afternoon Mass at St. Eugene's Cathedral in Santa Rosa, Monsignor James Gaffey described the situation as confusing and said it wasn't yet possible to determine when Ziemann was apprised of Hume's background.
"Let me remind you that even he, Archbishop Levada, is dependent on what is told to him by people who are supposed to know," Gaffey said. "He is simply acting on the information he received."
Noting that he has written three volumes on church history, Gaffey said, "Rome always makes the right decision if it's given the right information. I think the same thing is true of the archbishop of San Francisco."
In his letter, Levada further defends Ziemann by specifically addressing his handling of Hume's admitted theft of church money in 1996 while assigned to St. Mary's Church in Ukiah. "On my preliminary reading of the situation, I would not join those who accuse Bishop Ziemann of a "cover-up," though I would say that if his relationship with Father Hume had begun by that time, it could lend more credence to such a suspicion," said Levada.
Hume contends in a civil lawsuit, and in a criminal complaint to Santa Rosa police that is still under investigation, that Ziemann soon after the Ukiah church theft was uncovered began to demand sex in return for his silence.
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