Bishops Concealed Sins of the Fathers
By Guy Kovner
June 9, 2002
[Note: A survivor's name has been redacted from this article.]
Shielded by a wall of church secrecy, Catholic priests molested youths from Eureka to Santa Rosa for more than 20 years before their abuses were revealed in lawsuits and criminal investigations starting in 1994.
In the eight years that followed, the Santa Rosa Diocese paid out millions of dollars to settle claims by victims of five priests, but never once did a priest, bishop or other church leader report any of the abuse to police.
Over the course of the past three decades, the scandal rocking the U.S. Catholic Church in 2002 played out in Santa Rosa, as bishops allowed priest offenders to remain in youth ministries, destroyed records of priest misconduct and provided hush money to victims.
The nation's bishops will gather this week in Dallas as the Catholic Church struggles to staunch the suffering and loss. But critics and even church officials place much of the blame on the bishops themselves, whose secrecy and absolute power over diocesan affairs were a prescription for trouble.
"All it takes is one bishop to not manage well and you've got a disaster," said Thomas Plante, author and psychology department chairman at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit college in the Silicon Valley. "You've got certain dioceses that are magnets for problems. Santa Rosa is one."
The bishops will discuss a policy proposal for responding to sex abuse by clergy that repudiates past practices. The proposal calls for prompt response to complaints, cooperation with police, formation of diocese-level investigative committees and the ouster of offending priests.
Bishop Daniel Walsh, who took over the 140,000-member Santa Rosa Diocese two years ago and who will be attending the conference, said Friday he already has instituted similar changes.
"You learn more from your mistakes," Walsh said, acknowledging that his intent was to "close the door" on mishandling of past cases.
Walsh said he supports the removal of current offenders, but hasn't decided whether the national policy should allow possible exemptions for one-time previous offenders.
That decision will affect the future of the Rev. Anthony Ross, currently suspended from his ministry to jail inmates for allegedly abusing an Illinois boy in 1981. It's only the latest in the long list of abuse, scandal and outright crime and deception that has marred the ministries of Bishops Mark Hurley, John Steinbock, G. Patrick Ziemann and Walsh.
Santa Rosa's second bishop, Mark Hurley, ran the diocese from 1969 to 1987, a tenure marked by child molestations from Eureka to Santa Rosa but stifled by secrecy.
"I've never gone to the police," Hurley said in a 1995 deposition. "I think there's a danger in that and therefore, I have never reported anything on anybody to the police."
Hurley, who resigned as Santa Rosa's longest-serving bishop in 1987, also testified that he tore up all confidential personnel records before leaving. Hurley died last year after undergoing surgery at a San Francisco hospital.
Steinbock's brief tenure, from 1987 to 1991, was clouded by failure to remove two offending priests, a history that would be detailed this year from a courtroom witness stand.
"You try to save a person's priesthood if possible," Steinbock testified in March, when asked why he had tried to reassign Don Kimball, who admitted to fondling six girls, rather than firing him.
Steinbock, now bishop of the Fresno diocese, refused to comment. A spokeswoman for the bishop said he had "no comment beyond his deposition."
Ziemann, who arrived in 1992, removed three priests accused of sexual misconduct, but also loaned Gary Timmons $40,000 for his legal defense and secretly paid more than $560,000 in church funds to an unknown number of victims of abuse by priests.
Ziemann resigned in 1999, disgraced by his own homosexual relationship with another priest and leaving the diocese $16 million in debt.
Ziemann did not return repeated calls. He is now living at a Benedictine monastery in Arizona, "continuing his personal journey of penance and repentance," said Fred Allison, spokesman for Tucson Diocese.
Walsh inherited the moral and financial morass left by his predecessors, and put in place changes for handling sexual misconduct.
But he too is intertwined with the past, named in a Nevada civil lawsuit alleging he overlooked a priest's abuse of nine teen-agers before he came to Santa Rosa and refusing to identify two local priests -- one of whom he said was suspended and another who is dead -- whose molestation charges were handled privately by the diocese.
Critics also say Walsh could or should have known about Austin Peter Keegan, a notorious molester of boys in the San Francisco Archdiocese in the 1960s and '70s before he came to Santa Rosa in 1976.
Sins of the past
The mission for the bishops this week is to redeem the Catholic Church by preventing a repeat of the sins of the past.
Plante said intervention is the key to arresting the problem. Offenders must be removed from clerical duty, given therapy and then kept away from potential victims, he said.
That's not what happened in the case of four of the Santa Rosa Diocese's most serious offenders -- Timmons, Keegan, Kimball and John Rogers -- whom bishops allowed to remain in youth-oriented ministries after allegations of abuse were leveled, but were kept behind closed doors.
Timmons, the first to be accused, faced civil and criminal charges involving as many as 18 youths molested at camp, on overnight outings and in parish bedrooms in Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties as far back as 1969.
Timmons was convicted in 1996, served four years in prison and was released in 2000. He resigned from the church and is now a registered sex offender.
Just when Timmons' crimes were revealed is disputed. In separate depositions in 1998, Ziemann and Monsignor Thomas Keys, then vicar-general of the diocese, said Timmons was relieved of duty at St. Bernard Church in Eureka in 1994 as soon as they learned of abuse allegations by Stephen Gallagher, son of then-Judge John Gallagher, a prominent Catholic.
A Eureka attorney, Bill Bertain, wrote to both Ziemann and Timmons in October 1993, warning them that a back-rub Timmons allegedly gave to a 13-year-old boy could be the basis for a lawsuit and embarrassment to the church.
"Ziemann knew there was something to be dealt with there and he didn't do it," Bertain said.
The Rev. Bill Finn, former principal at Cardinal Newman High School, testified that he told Hurley about allegations against Timmons sometime between 1979 and 1982, according to a 1998 deposition.
Stephen Gallagher told a reporter in 1995 that he remembered Timmons' taking him, at age 9, to his bedroom at St. Eugene's rectory and that Hurley turned to another priest and said: "Don't leave Father Timmons alone with that child in that room."
Monsignor Gerard Fahey testified in a 1995 deposition that he knew Timmons was bringing young boys to spend the night at St. Eugene's rectory as early as 1976. Fahey, then pastor of St. Eugene's, said it was not his business to supervise Timmons because "the priests' rooms were their castles. What they did there was no concern of mine."
Bishop Hurley emphatically denied any warning from Finn about Timmons, whom he called "an exemplary priest" in a 1995 deposition. Under repeated questioning, Hurley said Finn "has a reputation for being an alcoholic." Finn died of pneumonia in 2000.
Hurley said he "had no doubts about Father Timmons," noting that his own nephews, ages 10 and 12, attended the Catholic summer camp run by Timmons.
Hurley acted decisively in the case of the Rev. Patrick McCabe, who was serving at St. Bernard's in Eureka when some parents complained that he had children sit on his knee when hearing their first confession.
"Hurley just yanked him," Keys said in a 1998 deposition.
Keegan to Santa Rosa
Austin Peter Keegan, accused of molesting boys as many as 50 times in Santa Rosa from 1979 to 1982, never faced charges here or in San Francisco, where he was also a notorious molester. Fired by Hurley in 1982, Keegan later turned up working as a priest in Mexico, his last known address.
Suspicion lingers that Keegan, who allegedly sodomized young boys, was dumped by the church in Santa Rosa.
Walsh, ordained in 1963, served as a San Francisco priest and archdiocesan official in the 1960s and '70s, when Keegan's reputation, by some accounts, was widespread.
Monsignor Peter Armstrong, a former Redwood City church pastor better known as the longtime chaplain for the San Francisco 49ers, wrote in a 1992 letter to former San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop Patrick J. McGrath that Keegan's conduct was known to a diocesan chancellor and "honestly, most of the priests of that era."
In an interview, Armstrong, now retired, said he may have overstated Keegan's reputation but confirmed that Keegan abused boys in three San Francisco parishes and in Marin County before he was booted out of the San Francisco Archdiocese in 1976. One of Keegan's victims later married Armstrong's niece, his letter said.
Armstrong said he wasn't sure if Keegan's misconduct was widely known at the chancery office, where Walsh served from 1970 to 1987.
"Keegan's history in San Francisco is huge," said Don Hoard, a retired Petaluma insurance agent whose son was among Timmons' victims. Hoard, who organized a local victims advocacy group, thinks Walsh had to know about Keegan: "He was the chancellor, for God sakes," Hoard said.
Walsh said he did not hear of Keegan's crimes in the 1970s, and did not know if Keegan was transferred to Santa Rosa to get rid of a problem. "I was not privy to that," Walsh said.
In a 1995 deposition, Hurley said that before he allowed Keegan to start work in Santa Rosa in 1976 he required Keegan to get written permission, known as an affirmation, from San Francisco Archbishop Joseph Thomas McGucken. Armstrong said he couldn't explain why someone in San Francisco wouldn't have warned Hurley about Keegan or why Keegan's behavior was unchecked. "I shudder when I think of the past," Armstrong said. "We didn't act properly."
The Rev. Vincent Ring, a San Bruno church pastor, said he advised Archbishop McGucken of Keegan's offenses but denied a victim's report that he also told Hurley. Asked if McGucken had told Hurley anything about Keegan, Ring said: "You don't know one way or the other."
"They knew in San Francisco what was going on and they cleared him," [Redacted] said in 1995, when he was paid $450,000 to settle his claim of sex abuse by Keegan.
Hurley fired Keegan in 1982, but the bishop said he destroyed all confidential personnel records when he left Santa Rosa in 1987 and said he was shocked to learn Keegan was working as a priest in Mexico.
"I mean, it was just no question that it was done, and there was no reason to bother with it," Hurley said in a 1995 deposition. Asked how the San Francisco Archdiocese would know Keegan had been banished, Hurley said: "Well, I think it would be just a word of mouth."
Kimball, sentenced Friday to seven years in prison for molesting a 13-year-old girl in 1981, enjoyed the prestige of a nationally acclaimed radio youth ministry even after he was quietly suspended by Steinbock in 1990.
Seven years later, lawsuits were filed by two men and two women accusing Kimball of molesting them when they were juveniles in the 1970s. The lawsuits, which prompted the criminal charges, were settled for $1.6 million in 2000. Criminal charges were filed soon afterward.
Testifying at Kimball's criminal trial in March, Steinbock said that shortly after he was installed as bishop in 1987 he was advised that Kimball had fondled two girls four years earlier.
The bishop's notes from Nov. 22, 1987, introduced during a 1999 deposition, said: "Two teen-age girls, no intercourse, intimate touching and kissing." Steinbock said in the deposition that he did not ask, and Kimball did not reveal, the girls' names or ages.
In 1988, Steinbock met with a woman who reported "inappropriate action" by Kimball in 1977 or '78, and in 1989 the same woman said she knew of another victim.
Despite the warnings, Steinbock said he concluded Kimball was "not any present danger to God's people," according to the deposition.
Steinbock said he took "strict action" in 1990, after Kimball admitted to sexual contact with six young girls, three in Santa Rosa and three in Eureka. The bishop testified that he offered Kimball another assignment -- working in a hospital or with jail inmates -- and suspended him when he refused to give up his youth ministry.
Steinbock's notes at the time show that he anticipated Kimball would be defrocked, and that afterward, "God willing, I said I could see myself recommending Cornerstone Media (Kimball's private corporation) for funding as long as in accord with teaching of the church."
Perhaps the most tragic chapter of the North Coast scandal involves Rogers and Patrick McBride, who accused the priest of molesting him at the St. Bernard Church rectory in Eureka in 1976.
McBride first complained in 1988, during Steinbock's tenure, according to testimony by Monsignor Keys. Steinbock suspended Rogers, who was chaplain of the Cardinal Newman Center at Humboldt State University, and had him evaluated by a psychiatrist, Keys said. Rogers was reinstated after the psychiatrist reported that Rogers was a latent homosexual but not a pedophile, Keys testified.
In 1995, McBride learned that Rogers was still working around students at Humboldt State. He renewed his complaint to Ziemann, who sent Rogers to Belgium and three months later ordered him to return for psychiatric evaluation.
Instead, Rogers committed suicide, leaving a note that declared: "All I can say is that I have no recollection of ever even meeting a person Pat McBride -- much less molesting him."
McBride was stunned. "My only goal was to be sure that no one else would get hurt," he said in a 1995 interview.
McBride was found dead at his parents' home in Calistoga in March 2001 with traces of four drugs and a heavy dose of the painkiller Oxycodone in his blood. The Napa County coroner said he died of chronic drug abuse.
A curious confluence in the scandal is Camp St. Michael on the Eel River in northern Mendocino County. Timmons founded the camp in 1964, and over 25 years hundreds of children attended the camp.
Timmons hired Kimball to work as a camp counselor in the late 1960s and in the 1980s, and McBride said that's where he was introduced to Rogers.
Maureen LaForge said her son, Jon, complained back in the 1970s of Timmons' groping him at the camp. She recalls the frustration of the denial by Timmons, the camp director, and Bob Bailey, the camp counselor, who insisted it was a misunderstanding, she said.
"I was so fearful to go up against such a mighty force," she said by telephone from her home in a small town north of Fresno. It wasn't until 1994, when two other men accused Timmons of molesting them at the camp, that LaForge realized her son's experience was not an isolated case.
LaForge's experience underscores what's wrong with the church's top-down power structure, said Plante, the psychologist who has written a book on sex abuse by priests. Bishops, who answer only to the pope, rule their dioceses with absolute authority.
A disgruntled parishioner, or a sex abuse victim, has nowhere in the church to turn if the bishop fails to act, Plante said. Protestant and Jewish congregations, in contrast, typically have a lay board of directors that can hire and fire a minister or rabbi.
"I think that's the key ingredient," Plante said.
Former Petaluma Rabbi Sidney Goldenberg, charged with molesting a 12-year-old girl in 1996, resigned at the request of Congregation B'nai Israel's board of directors.
After news reports and lawsuits broke the Catholic Church's wall of secrecy in 1994, Santa Rosa bishops took a more aggressive approach.
Ziemann, who became bishop in 1992, said his predecessors left no records of misconduct by priests and that he knew nothing of Timmons' behavior until 1994.
"In no way will we cover up, or deny or ignore this issue," he told a reporter in 1995. But Ziemann also loaned Timmons $40,000 to help pay his legal fees, allowing it to be repaid at 6.25 percent interest as Timmons was able.
During his seven-year tenure as bishop, Ziemann removed three priests accused of sexual misconduct, starting with Timmons in 1994.
In 1995 he responded to the complaints against Rogers and in 1997, Ziemann agreed to settle claims against the Rev. Vincent O'Neill brought by five former altar boys who said O'Neill molested them in the late 1970s. O'Neill was removed as pastor of Windsor's Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, and the diocese promised he would get therapy and never have routine contact with children.
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but plaintiffs' attorney Michael Meadows said Ziemann had expedited it. "There's a willingness to confront the problems of the past and own up to responsibilities," Meadows said.
O'Neill died of a brain tumor in 1998.
As head of the Fresno diocese, Steinbock has taken a hard line on sexual misconduct, firing three priests in the past 10 years, according to the Modesto Bee.
One priest was removed for a serious sex crime alleged by a relative of the victim. The other two cases involved priests who allowed themselves to be alone with boys, violating Steinbock's written policy.
"My first concern is always the safety of God's people," he told the Bee.
But in Santa Rosa, Steinbock admitted that he had failed to probe the dirty secrets of his priests.
Concluding the 1999 deposition, an attorney asked: "Bishop Steinbock, did you ever try to identify other minors who might have had sexual contact with Father Kimball?"
"I didn't have knowledge," Steinbock replied. "You know, we had so many people involved here now. I don't know, do we have them all identified or not yet?"