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  No Charges against Ziemann D.A., Police Cite Lack of Evidence against Former Bishop

Press Democrat
November 10, 1999

Santa Rosa police and Sonoma County prosecutors are to announce today that no criminal charges will be filed against former Roman Catholic Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann following a sixmonth investigation into allegations he coerced a former Ukiah priest into a two-year sexual relationship.

District Attorney J. Michael Mullins and Police Chief Michael Dunbaugh also concur that a criminal investigation into the Diocese of Santa Rosa's financial woes is not warranted at this point based on a review of complaints brought to authorities beginning in late September.

However, either case could be reopened if substantive new evidence surfaces, said sources close to the combined police-district attorney investigation.

In the sexual coercion case, the major stumbling block proved to be the credibility of Rev. Jorge Hume Salas, the priest who claimed that Ziemann used his authority as bishop to force him into sexual favors. Salas, who was ordained a Ukiah priest by Ziemann in 1993, played a questionable role in his hiring of an attorney 15 months before he ended the sexual relationship with Ziemann and in secretly tape recording a conversation between him and the bishop, sources said.

Mullins and Dunbaugh issued a statement Tuesday that they were holding a news conference at noon today at the Finley Community Center to discuss their findings. Two investigators from Mullins' office have worked with four police detectives since June looking into allegations surrounding Ziemann's conduct.

Today's announcement will mark the end of police involvement in the highest-profile case yet involving accusations of sexual and financial misconduct against priests and now a bishop within the Santa Rosa diocese. Since 1990, six priests and Ziemann have been accused of sexual misconduct, leading the Catholic Church to pay out at least $6 million in claims and counseling for dozens of victims.

Neither Dunbaugh nor Mullins would comment Tuesday. Also, neither Hume nor his attorney, Santa Rosa lawyer Irma Cordova, could be reached Tuesday night for comment on investigators' findings.

Chris Andrian, Ziemann's criminal defense lawyer, said Tuesday night that neither the police nor the D.A. had informed him of their plans. "But if that is the decision, then they made the right decision for lots of reasons, not the least of which is this man has no credibility," he said.

While the focus of the investigation has been Hume's claims of sexual coercion by the bishop, investigators also looked into the possibility of financial wrongdoing relating to the bishop's role in the diocese's current financial crisis. Individual Catholic churches and schools within the sixcounty diocese are still reeling from disclosure of a $16 million debt in the wake of Ziemann's July 21 resignation.

Police examined financial documents turned over to investigators by concerned church members, but did not find evidence to pursue search warrants for detailed church financial documents.

Ziemann still remains the target of Hume's civil lawsuit, which claims he was forced to engage in a two-year sexual relationship with the bishop in return for his silence about the priest's admitted theft of church funds and allegations he was sexually involved with young Latino men while serving at St. Mary of the Angels Church in Ukiah.

After a year of secret talks among church attorneys and lawyers for Hume, the Ziemann scandal exploded into public view in July when the Costa Rican native filed a civil lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court alleging the bishop had criminally coerced him into having sex. Ziemann resigned on July 21 a few hours after the lawsuit became public, and the next day he stunned his parishioners and advisers when he acknowledged a sexual relationship with Hume but claimed it was consensual, not forced.

For many of the diocese's 140,000 Catholics, the sex case would be overshadowed by disclosure of the worst-ever financial crisis for the diocese, which stretches from Petaluma to the Oregon border. San Francisco Archbishop William Levada, appointed by Rome in July to oversee the diocese until a new bishop is named, has slashed diocesan budgets, laid off staff, stopped some building projects, and put church property up for sale in hopes of restoring financial stability to the diocese.

Ziemann, scion of a patrician Southern California family and a popular religious leader known as Bishop Pat who was once considered to be a rising star in the church hierarchy, is reported to be living in seclusion in the East where he's enrolled in a residential treatment program. Ziemann associates say he hopes someday to resume a religious role within the church.

For months, attorney Cordova has portrayed Hume as a victim of a bishop who held authority over virtually every aspect of his life, from parish assignments after his ordination in 1993 to surviving financially in his adopted country.

Santa Rosa police launched their investigation in June after Hume filed a criminal complaint, and turned over to detectives a copy of a secretly recorded 1998 conversation between him and the bishop. The tape was made a year after Hume retained Cordova as his attorney.

Cordova has argued that Ziemann's taped admissions of sexual misconduct, and his apologies to Hume for demanding sex, were enough for authorities to move ahead with prosecution of sexual coercion charges.

But as the police investigation neared a conclusion, Ziemann's attorneys provided information that cast doubts on Hume's credibility and the motivations behind his initial claim for $8 million in damages from the bishop and the Catholic Church.

Documents turned over to investigators included letters from Bolivian church officials who said Hume, while studying for the priesthood there, was discovered to have pornography and condoms in his possession, and three passports, one of which said he was a priest.

Other information included an August letter from Honduras Bishop Geraldo Scarpone declaring he was not the author of a June 10, 1984 letter that Hume used in winning Ziemann's approval for his ordination in the Diocese of Santa Rosa.

 
 

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