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Bishop admits relationship, but denies sexual abuse


Bishop Patrick Ziemann of Santa Rosa, Calif., who submitted his resignation in April after being sued for alleged sexual abuse, admitted July 23 to a “personal, consensual relationship” with the priest who is suing him.

Ziemann’s lawyer, Joseph Piasta, issued a statement admitting the affair with Fr. Jorge Hume Salas but denied accusations that the sex was forced. Pope John Paul II accepted Ziemann’s resignation July 21.

Hume, 41, sued Ziemann July 16 in Sonoma County Superior Court, saying the bishop had abused him for two years ending in 1998. Hume claimed that Ziemann, 57, demanded sex weekly in exchange for his silence after Hume admitted he had stolen $1,200 from St. Mary of the Angels Church in Ukiah.

“Those charges of sexual battery, defamation and other violations are not true,” Piasta said. “However, the bishop did regretfully have a personal, consensual relationship with Fr. Hume that was inappropriate for both of them as priests.”

The submission of Ziemann’s resignation in April had been kept a secret until Pope John Paul II accepted it July 22.

The Santa Rosa diocese has portrayed Hume’s accusations as an effort to obtain money from the diocese after Hume and his lawyer made a “suggestion” that an $8 million payment would resolve the case, according to press reports.

Hume’s lawyer, Irma Cordova, said July 22 that the $8 million figure was withdrawn in January and had simply been an effort to get the attention of church officials after complaints last fall about Ziemann’s alleged abuse had not been answered. Cordova also told The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa that had they known Ziemann had offered his resignation in April, the full disclosure of this scandal might have been avoided.

“Had we known that Ziemann had tendered his resignation in April, there would have been a very different outcome,” she said. “That would have been 80 percent of our battle right there. It certainly would not have led to the filing of the lawsuit.”

Cordova said they had been negotiating with the Santa Rosa diocese since last fall and that she had submitted a settlement demand that included Ziemann’s resignation, his enrollment in therapy supervised by someone outside the diocese, an apology to Hume and $8 million.

Ziemann’s lawyer maintains that the suit amounts to blackmail by a disgruntled employee.

“The bishop has refused to buy his reputation and peace of mind from this man at the price of millions from the people of his diocese,” Piasta said. “These charges threaten not only the reputation of a very holy man, but the faith of thousands of North Bay Catholics that recognize him as what a modern Catholic leader should be.”

The Press Democrat reported July 25 reactions to Ziemann’s situation. Some embraced Msgr. James Gaffey’s call for compassion and forgiveness. But other parishioners who attended Mass at the Cathedral of St. Eugene in Santa Rosa July 24 said they were angry and hurt at Ziemann’s actions.

Gaffey reminded the congregation of Ziemann’s love and responsiveness, his ministry to Latinos and the homeless and his leading role in reaching out to victims who suffered sexual abuse as children.

“This too shall pass,” Michael Scannell, a longtime member of St. Mary’s Parish, told The Press Democrat.

But a churchgoer at the cathedral said she and her husband were “horrified and appalled” both by the bishop’s “dishonesty, the deceit and the breaking of the solemn vows,” and by church leaders’ “self-serving” appeals for forgiveness.

Many expressed disappointment with Ziemann over his promised openness in dealing with other cases of priestly sexual misconduct since his assignment to the diocese in 1992.

Sr. Jane Kelly released documents in January showing that Ziemann had covered up Hume’s admission of theft, as well as accusations by four Latino men that Hume had accosted them. Ziemann acknowledged that he knew about the theft in 1996. He assigned Hume to another church instead of publicly prosecuting him for the theft.

Church officials in Santa Rosa are also questioning the unusual and rapid procedure by which Hume was ordained a priest by Ziemann in 1993, according to The Press Democrat.

Kelly, who was assigned to oversee Hume at St. Mary’s Church in Ukiah when he arrived, said she was never provided any evidence by the diocese that Hume attended a seminary or went through any of the extensive educational and psychiatric programs for entering the priesthood.

National Catholic Reporter, August 13, 1999