Other Church Victims Angry over Hume Settlement
By Mike Geniella
April 27, 2000
Parents and victims of sexual abuse by North Coast priests complained Wednesday that the Catholic Church is paying a former Ukiah priest more to settle a sexual harassment suit against Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann than it paid victims of childhood molestation.
Although the Diocese of Santa Rosa has paid out an estimated $6 million in recent years to settle sexual abuse claims against clergy, a lawyer for the victims said Wednesday that no individual victim received as much as the $535,000 being paid to the Rev. Jorge Hume Salas to settle his civil suit.
Attorney Michael Meadows of Walnut Creek, who represented the majority of victims of abuse by North Coast priests, declined to specify how much his clients had received individually in out-of-court settlements. He said, however, that none of his clients received as much as Hume, and that he believed no other victims had either.
Hume's suit alleged that Ziemann coerced him into a two-year sexual relationship. The bishop contends it was consensual, and there is no admission of coercion in the settlement.
Hume's allegation triggered a series of events that included Ziemann's resignation and the revelation that the Santa Rosa diocese was $16 million in debt as the result of fiscal mismanagement and financial settlements to abuse victims.
On Wednesday, some of those victims called the Hume settlement outrageous.
"The issue for myself and other childhood victims of sexual abuse was never money, but the church balked at paying us anything, and when it reluctantly agreed to, it certainly wasn't anywhere near that amount," said Penngrove resident Glenn Sullivan, who as a boy was molested by the Rev. Gary Timmons in the 1970s.
Wendy Gallagher, a Santa Rosa mother of another victim of Timmons, called the church's settlement with Hume, and a decision to allow him to remain a priest, a "travesty" Wednesday.
The complaints of Gallagher, Sullivan and others fueled a controversy over the announced settlement with Hume. Also under fire is a church decision to allow Hume to remain a priest despite a background that includes an admission of theft of church money, allegations of sexual misconduct, and the discovery that he presented fraudulent church documents from his native Central America at the time of his ordination by Ziemann seven years ago.
Church representatives defended the Hume settlement Wednesday, contending it will save the 140,000 members of the Santa Rosa diocese hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential legal costs and damages.
"It makes sense to do this for the parishioners," said Maurice Healy, a spokesman for Archbishop William Levada, acting administrator of the diocese.
Bishop Daniel Walsh of Las Vegas, who is to take over the Santa Rosa diocese May 22, was traveling Wednesday and was unavailable for comment on the controversy that might greet him.
Healy said he can't understand the clamor surrounding Hume and Ziemann. "There's nothing preventing them from becoming contributing members of the church again," Healy said. "I don't understand this impulse to run them out of town."
But Sullivan, Gallagher and others contended church leaders are missing the point.
"Had Jorge Hume been legitimately ordained, I'd still want him defrocked. To pay him this amount of money and allow him to remain a priest is probably the biggest insult to the laity yet," Gallagher said.
"It's terribly demoralizing and a terrible example for our young people."
Sullivan, married and the father of three sons, said he decided to speak publicly because he never wants what happened to him to happen to his boys.
"The church leadership still doesn't understand what it means to be sexually abused at the hands of someone you trusted. It alters your life forever," Sullivan said.
Tom Economust, president of a Chicago-based organization that helps victims of abuse by clergy, agreed with Sullivan. Economust, who said he too was a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, said the Hume settlement underscores what he believes remains a fundamental flaw in the church hierarchy.
"There's a code that says, 'Save Mother Church at whatever costs,"' Economust said.
Meadows said he was stunned to learn of the size of Hume's settlement.
"As far as I'm concerned, there's a big difference between what happened to young people who were sexually abused at the hands of clergy and what has happened to a grown man with a history of manipulation and theft," Meadows said.
He finds it hard to imagine, he said, "Mr. Hume's character being significantly altered by his relationship with Ziemann."
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