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  Hume to Get $535,000 in Settlement with SR Diocese Priest's Accusations Forced Ziemann out

By Mike Geniella
Press Democrat
April 25, 2000

The Diocese of Santa Rosa announced Monday it will pay a former Ukiah priest $535,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging he was coerced by former Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann into a two-year sexual relationship.

Under terms of the settlement, Ziemann and the diocese admit no liability, contending the payment is "solely for the purpose of settlement," according to church lawyers. They said an insurance carrier will pay the settlement and that the money will not come from the depleted coffers of a diocese left $16 million in debt by fiscal mismanagement and payment of $6 million worth of claims related to sexual misconduct by priests.

The church's financial problems came to light when Ziemann resigned in disgrace in July, four days after the Rev. Jorge Hume Salas filed his lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court.

Church leaders said Monday they felt it best to settle the high-profile case now so that newly appointed Bishop Daniel Walsh could give his "undivided attention to his important pastoral and administrative responsibilities." The 62-year-old Walsh, currently the head of the Diocese of Las Vegas, will be installed May 22 as new bishop of Santa Rosa.

In a joint statement issued Monday, diocesan lawyer Paul Gaspari and Hume attorney Jeff Gibson, both of San Francisco, said legal disagreements over the merits of Hume's lawsuit remain.

Ziemann had contended the sexual relationship was consensual, but Hume in his lawsuit against Ziemann and the church contended he agreed to engage in sex over a two-year period only after the bishop threatened to expose Hume's own prior misconduct. That misconduct involved the theft of church money at St. Mary of the Angels Church in Ukiah, and allegations he had sexually molested young Latino men belonging to the parish.

Hume admitted stealing money from church collections, but he denied the sexual allegations.

Gaspari and Gibson said Monday the settlement was in order because, "Each side recognizes the legal complexities involved, the pain already imposed on the Catholic community by the issues in this case, and the need to bring the matter to a close and move on."

Monsignor James Gaffey of St. Eugene's Cathedral in Santa Rosa said Monday he hopes settlement of the lawsuit, along with a public apology from Ziemann and the appointment of a new bishop earlier this month, will ease the turmoil within the diocese.

"We need to go forward," said Gaffey.

Hume is a Costa Rican native who was ordained a priest in 1992 in Ukiah by Ziemann, despite questions raised by clergy about his qualifications. Investigations made after Hume filed his lawsuit revealed he had forged church documents and misstated his educational background in Central America.

According to Monday's announcement, Hume is to resign his ministry in the Santa Rosa diocese, but he "remains a priest."

Although his immediate plans are uncertain, his lawyers said Monday that he may choose to return to Central America. Hume is not a citizen of the United States but he has permanent residency status.

Hume lawyer Irma Cordova of Santa Rosa on Monday described the church decision not to defrock Hume as a "major victory" for her client.

"He has always wanted to remain a priest, and to be able to work with people," said Cordova.

But some critics characterized the decision not to remove Hume from the clergy as inappropriate.

"This is outrageous," said Sister Jane Kelley, the Ukiah nun who made Hume's theft of church funds public after church leaders ignored her protests following his reassignment in 1998 by Ziemann to a Napa church.

"The church is doing what it's always done: paying to settle claims involving priest misconduct, and then letting the wrongdoers move on," said Kelley.

Wendy Gallagher, a Santa Rosa woman whose son was sexually molested by a priest, agreed.

"I think allowing this person to remain a priest is very sad. And I think it's a terrible slap in the face to all the good priests who live up to their vows," she said.

Gaspari acknowledged that Hume could return to active priesthood "if he could find a bishop who would be willing to take him." But Gaspari said that's unlikely.

While Hume technically remains a priest, Gaspari said he's unable to minister as a priest. He said Hume's history will follow him wherever he goes.

"Under church law, a bishop anywhere in the world is required to check with the former diocese on the status of an incoming priest. In the event that occurs, we will make full disclosure of everything that has happened in the Santa Rosa diocese," said Gaspari.

Ziemann retains his title as a church bishop, but he, too, is unable to minister as a priest because of a church-imposed ban.

Ziemann is staying at a monastery somewhere in the Southwest, said his attorney, Joseph Piasta of Santa Rosa. "He is living a life of prayer and repentance," said Piasta.

Piasta said that, as a trial lawyer, he has mixed feelings about the announced settlement.

"On one hand, I am confident that before a civil jury Bishop Pat would have defeated the charges filed by Father Salas. The evidence would have proven that the relationship was consensual," said Piasta.

He said, however, that, "Cases are settled for all kinds of reasons."

"Archbishop Levada and the church leadership have to do what they think is best for the church overall," said Piasta.

As for Ziemann, Piasta said the former bishop "supports the archbishop in whatever steps he is taking to heal the Diocese of Santa Rosa."

Ziemann two weeks ago admitted in a public letter read during weekend masses to the diocese's 140,000 Catholics that he had "sinned greviously." Ziemann asked for forgiveness for the pain he has caused.

After a year of therapy, Ziemann has chosen to live temporarily at a monastery that Piasta declined to identify. "He looks forward to serving God and the people in this new ministry," said Piasta.

Hume hopes the settlement brings closure to a "very painful period for him," said Gibson.

"He definitely knows he did something wrong, but he feels like he's been caught in the middle of a nightmare that's engulfed everyone in the diocese," said Gibson.

"This has been an incredibly sad story anyway you look at it for everyone involved: Hume, Ziemann and the parishioners," said Gibson. "There are no winners."

 
 

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