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Cover story

Santa Rosa’s year of trial

NCR Staff
Santa Rosa, Boyes Hot Springs and Healdsburg, Calif.

The eight-month long sex-and-finance scandal that has shaken this northern California diocese could have national implications for how dioceses are managed if demands for reform here catch on in other parts of the country. Santa Rosa’s 140,000 Catholics live in 42 parishes that stretch from Petaluma, just above the northern edge of San Francisco Bay, to the Oregon border. Catholics here were first bewildered, ashamed and saddened by admissions of a sexual relationship between a priest and a once-popular bishop who has since resigned. On the heels of that scandal they were buffeted and angered anew by revelations of a $30 million financial crisis that involved secret overseas bank accounts. Today they are organizing to demand new forms of shared diocesan governance, accountability and transparency -- with the implied threat of indefinitely withholding diocesan funds if their demands are not met.

These new directions have national implications, said St. Leo parishioner Toni Kuhry, who is making diocese-wide contacts for reform following St. Leo’s own parish survey on the crises. “There are people who want to make changes,” said Kuhry, “changes in the big church structure -- not just solving the financial crisis in this diocese. Throughout the church,” she emphasized, “not just here.”

That threat to withhold funds already is taking form in some quarters here. To ensure the diocese does not get its hands on more parish money, for instance, a St. Leo’s parishioner in Boyes Hot Springs now makes his collection plate check out to PG&E -- Pacific Gas and Electric, the local utility company -- to directly help pay the parish utility bills.

In Eureka, St. Bernard’s School, which lost its $750,000 diocesan subsidy, has raised a school-saving $1.6 million on the understanding by donors that the money remains outside diocesan hands. A local nonprofit group, not connected to the Catholic church, administers the funds.

The scandal first rocked the public last July when Fr. Jorge Hume Salas, 41, of Costa Rica, a shadowy figure ordained without apparently completing seminary training, sued Santa Rosa Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann, 57, alleging Ziemann blackmailed him for sex. Hume Salas, who portrayed himself as a former seminarian in Costa Rica and Mexico, was ordained a deacon in November 1993 by Ziemann in a public park in Ukiah, Calif., during a parish festivity.

He was ordained a priest in 1994 by Ziemann, but one parishioner said Hume Salas did not even know how to properly preside at the Eucharist.

Ukiah Catholics at St. Mary of the Angels Parish were astounded as local young men alleged that Hume Salas had sexually molested them in his room and the priest admitted to church and civil authorities that he stole from the parish collection, but nothing happened. Hume Salas, in his suit, contends that Ziemann was staying silent in exchange for sexual favors.

The charge, and Ziemann’s resignation, led the Vatican to send in San Francisco Archbishop William Levada as apostolic administrator to restore propriety to a diocese tarnished by a tawdry mess.

Yet as shock waves from the sordid sexual affair began to dissipate, and many understanding Catholics found themselves prepared to forgive Ziemann if he apologized, a second wave of scandal involving gross fiscal mismanagement and irresponsibility crashed over the diocese.

The closer Levada and his officials looked, the worse things appeared: The diocese was hemorrhaging money.

Santa Rosa’s reality -- a diocese already plagued by sex scandals and million-dollar payouts -- had long been masked. In the first weeks of taking charge Levada had to:

  • deal with Ziemann, by this time in a Pennsylvania treatment center, who faced criminal and civil sexual complaints;
  • order Vicar General and Vicar for Finance Thomas Keys to resign and install a priest the people and priests trusted as finance officer;
  • mollify and encourage a Ukiah parish that was breaking apart under the strain;
  • borrow $6 million from fellow California bishops to meet immediate salary, pension and operating obligations; and
  • determine the severity of the looming deficit, order an audit and restore some general confidence to infuriated and injured Santa Rosa Catholics.

Initially, in December 1999, the audit revealed a rapidly escalating $12.4 million operating deficit. But in January that figure shot up to $30 million with the first revelations of overseas bank accounts and money-losing investments in Europe and the United States.

Levada imposed cutbacks: the chancery administrative staff was halved; $12 million in building programs were halted; subsidies to parochial schools were ended and diocesan land was put up for sale.

The mood was grim.

At the same time, in January and February of this year, as some Santa Rosa Catholics conducted surveys and campaigned for diocesan managerial reform and lay participation in diocesan affairs, other parishioners -- to audience acclaim -- demanded prison for Ziemann. A public call for the bishop’s jailing at a February meeting at St. Mary’s, Ukiah -- one of five “town meetings” around the diocese -- “shook” Levada, who attended the meeting, said one Catholic who was present.

Levada told the crowd that Ziemann and Keys were “inept, but that’s not stealing. It is inappropriate to call for people to be imprisoned.” Letters to the local paper were not so forgiving. Said one, “The people involved should be in jail.”

Meanwhile, honest and chaste priests felt besmirched by the fallout. Innocent victims included St. Mary’s pastor, Fr. Hans Ruygt, who has taken a medical leave. Former Ukiah pastor, Fr. Gary Lombardi, since 1994 pastor of St. Vincent de Paul, Petaluma (which lost $2.2 million in the debacle), said Ruygt “felt he just couldn’t walk through town with his Roman collar on any more.”

NCR, using local interviews, letters and newspaper accounts, reviews the situation in three parts below: The Scandal, The Financial Crisis, and The Aftermath and the Laity.

The scandal

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sr. Jane Kelly did not come quickly to her decision, in January 1999, to publicly expose Fr. Jorge Hume Salas, formerly associate pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, Ukiah, Calif.

In a quiet Healdsburg, Calif., café, Kelly -- amid straightforward narrative and wry asides -- fought back tears, sometimes unsuccessfully, as she talked recently to NCR about the decision to finally make the Hume Salas case public by taking it to the media. At nearly 70, Kelly admitted to being emotionally and physically exhausted by the ordeal. “I’m almost on the verge of -- well, thank God I’m getting help,” she said.

For two and-a-half years, she recounted, she had tried to go through channels to warn diocesan officials about Hume Salas. Ziemann had appointed Kelly to supervise Hume Salas when the bishop accepted him as a potential candidate for priesthood.

She and then pastor Fr. Gary Lombardi told NCR they had doubts early on about Hume Salas’ suitability and had said so to Ziemann. Lombardi told NCR his concerns regarding Hume Salas had to do with his lack of seminary training and his rigid and “authoritarian” streak, such as refusing communion to first communicants if their parents missed preparatory meetings. Lombardi said he was moved to another parish before the other issues surfaced.

As early as May 1996 Kelly was confronting Hume Salas on his lack of financial accountability, she told NCR. Her letters to Ziemann and the Priests’ Personnel Committee from early 1997 on reveal her steadily mounting frustration as she states her contention that “Jorge is a pathological liar ordained under false pretences.”

On Jan. 4, 1997, exactly two years before she took her concerns public, Kelly told Ziemann, “I know for a fact that Jorge has deliberately and systematically stolen from the church collections.”

Throughout 1997 and 1998 Kelly tried to alert the church officials. “My frustration was unbelievable. I was worrying myself sick,” she said. Even so, she was hoping for Hume Salas’ redemption. She told Ziemann, “I pray that Jorge will have the courage and integrity to return to St. Mary of the Angels and confess his wrongdoing and make public restitution. I would hail him with admiration and compassion.”

By March 1997 she was writing to Ziemann, “I am utterly astonished to hear that Jorge Hume has been assigned to a parish.” (Hume Salas was assigned to St. John’s in Napa -- where he is accused of further sexual abuse, which he denies. Levada has suspended him from priestly duties).

But when Kelly added in her letter that “the time will come when it cannot be covered up and he [Hume Salas] will be made to face the consequences of his actions,” no one had any idea the words would apply to Ziemann as well.

Two 1997 letters from Kelly to Priests’ Personnel Committee members received answers in which Hume Salas’ name was not mentioned. Msgr. James P. Gaffey, replied, “If there is a cover-up regarding the person mentioned in your letter, I am unaware of it. His name was briefly mentioned once in a meeting of the [committee], a fleeting acknowledgment he had been relieved of his duties in Ukiah.” Gaffey wrote, “If it is appropriate, I will raise the issue of ‘cover-up’ mentioned in the letter, especially if, as you write, the matter is public knowledge in Ukiah. Frankly it is not public knowledge here -- unless, of course, I have missed something.”

Finally, in January 1999 Kelly (daughter of an Oakland Tribune newsman) sat down with a local reporter, Mike Geniella, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat’s Ukiah correspondent. His articles tipped the first domino for the reading public.

What Kelly hadn’t known was that behind the scenes, since the fall of 1998, Hume Salas with his lawyer had been pressing the diocese for an $8 million settlement over Ziemann’s alleged sexual abuse. San Francisco’s Levada told NCR (see accompanying story) that Ziemann had come to him in January 1999 and was working with Levada and the apostolic nuncio (the Washington-based Archbishop Gabriel Montalavo) to prepare his letter of resignation.

Until Hume Salas’ attorney lodged a civil complaint against Ziemann, said Levada, “Ziemann and his attorneys believed the matter could have been settled while Ziemann was still in Santa Rosa.”

What Kelly took public was the Hume Salas financial matter, with the full backing of her fellow Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary sisters in San Francisco. Her congregation’s attorneys had reviewed her accusations.

When the story broke, Kelly issued her statement, which in part reads: “I want it to be known that I had exhausted all sources within the church’s hierarchical structure to have Jorge Hume removed from priestly ministries. Since the bishop, the priests’ personnel board and the chancellor would not respond to my letters and verbal communication, I saw no other way.”

After praising reporter Geniella, Kelly responded to a Ziemann statement.

The bishop had told the press, “I believe every decision I’ve made has been fair to everyone.” Countered Kelly, “He certainly wasn’t fair to me, or to the Latino community of St. Mary’s.”

In the NCR interview, she said she was amazed that Ziemann had said he could not recall being given interview tapes by Latino parishioners -- made by Latino young men, who documented for the bishop their allegations that Hume Salas had sexually abused them.

Nor was St. Mary’s Parish treated fairly, said Kelly, “when Jorge had stolen at least $10,000 and only $4,100 was repaid. Jorge had committed a felony and the parish was forbidden to press charges by the bishop.” The local Ukiah police chief, a St. Mary’s parishioner pressed by Ziemann not to pursue the case, later publicly regretted acquiescing to the bishop’s request.

Meanwhile, Kelly said she was assured by policemen in Sacramento and lawyers in local parishes that she should call them if she ever needed legal advice or support. She also had “many letters and calls were from people sharing how they or their sons had been sexually assaulted in our diocese.”

Santa Rosa has not had an easy time since it was first created a diocese in 1962.

Its first bishop (1962-69) was Leo Maher, later bishop of San Diego. With a big house on a Santa Rosa hill, the free-spending Maher left the diocese in a financial hole when he was transferred.

Most of Maher’s shortfalls, said Msgr. John O’Hare, came from an ambitious building program curbed when Bishop Mark Hurley (1969-86) was appointed. As far as Santa Rosa’s lay Catholics were concerned, Hurley simply walked out in 1986 and later announced his resignation in favor of a Vatican appointment to the Secretariat for Non-Believers.

Bishop John Steinbock, now bishop of Fresno, Calif., in Santa Rosa only four years (1987-91), was succeeded by a Los Angeles auxiliary bishop, the affable, approachable, workaholic Ziemann, who arrived in 1991. The people loved their new bishop who threw himself into his work with parishes, farm workers, youth and the homeless with abandon.

On July 16, 1999, in Sonoma County Superior Court, Hume Salas filed his sexual abuse charges against Ziemann.

Said O’Hare, “A lot of 15- and 16-year-olds have very high ideals at that stage, and all of a sudden they picked up the papers.” On July 23 front-page banner headlines told the story. The Press Democrat: “Bishop Ziemann quits: Under fire denies priest’s charges of sexual abuse” “Efforts to do good followed by series of scandals” Ukiah Daily Journal: “Priest stole church funds; young men also come forward with allegations of sexual abuse”

The following day, more headlines: “Ziemann admits sex with priest” and “Ziemann: ‘Affair consensual, not coerced’ ”

How were families affected? In a Boyes Hot Springs survey conducted in January of this year, two parishioners said it was the first time they’d brought their families back to church since July. In Ukiah, Allyn Brown, St. Mary’s pastoral council chair, took a broader view. The Browns have two teenage sons who, she said, were “disappointed” in Ziemann’s conduct.

“They are 16 and 19, there’s no need to shield them. We’ve come to terms with human frailty,” she told NCR. “If we’re a family, we have to forgive. The money should not be forgiven. They [Bishop Ziemann and Msgr. Keys] owe us an apology. I believe in contrition, but some want vengeance.”

After the Vatican sent in Levada, San Francisco archbishop since 1995, the headlines changed: “Scandal leaves many parents, youth leaders with tough task,” “Catholic secrecy questioned as roll of priestly problems grows,” and “Troubled diocese begins healing process.”

The second blow struck Aug. 27, 1999, with banner headlines in The Santa Rosa Press Democrat: “Official: Diocese in budget crisis, new finance officer cites programs, sex case settlements.”

The trusted and humorous Msgr. John Brenkle, a pastor at St. Helena’s in St. Helena, Calif., and a former chancellor who resigned under Hurley, had the confidence of priests and many Catholics as he stepped into the chief finance officer void created by Keys’ forced resignation.

Levada’s -- and the diocese’s -- financial problems were barely surfacing. It was thought the diocese was simply overextended, as when Maher left. Then the books were examined. Levada ordered a comprehensive audit, and in December its distressing results were made public to every parish.

In November, Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullins and Santa Rosa police chief Michael Dunbaugh said Ziemann would not face criminal charges on the alleged sexual coercion. Prosecutor Mullins told The Press Democrat that neither the accuser nor the accused could be believed. “I’m convinced that neither party is credible,” he said.

Meanwhile, the district attorney and police chief were looking at possible criminal misuse of funds until told by diocesan officials the diocese wanted to handle the financial crisis “internally” on the grounds they did not believe there was a criminal problem.

District Attorney Mullins told NCR, “Our office is not currently investigating actions surrounding the financial collapse of the diocese. We did, with the Santa Rosa police department, initiate an investigation. After interviewing some witnesses and getting some information, we had an interview with the temporary head of the diocese. They indicated to us they were still conducting an audit, and we told them that if they had information that criminal acts had been committed they should forward that to us.

“Their [Levada and Brenkle’s] position was at that time, that [under Ziemann and Keys] there was no theft. They were authorized to do the acts they’d done, whether they were foolish or not.”

Is the district attorney’s office satisfied?

“Well,” said Mullins, “at this point I think we have to be satisfied with that. We really don’t have much of a choice since they have the records and they’re still going through them. They have made certain revelations. There is gross mismanagement but I do not see evidence of a criminal case.”

Asked if the district attorney’s office and the chief of police will finally review the records, Mullins said, “I would hope so. I’ve not made any arrangements to do so, nor have they offered to do so.”

But police chief Dunbaugh is not satisfied. According to The Press Democrat, he told Santa Rosa Catholics Feb. 4 the criminal investigation did not go forward because of the diocese’s refusal to cooperate. Ziemann and Keys, said Dunbaugh, have “not been cleared of any financial wrongdoing.”

Levada told NCR, “I don’t see any evidence of wrongdoing, anything other than a very serious lack of financial oversight, of mismanagement. I don’t know if every CEO of a company whose company goes bankrupt goes to jail. I don’t think so. That’s my point.” But the authorities will be notified, he said, “if we find evidence of any kind of questionable activity.”

The financial crisis

The reason so many parishes suffered devastating financial losses was that years earlier Vicar General Keys had established something called a diocesan Consolidated Account. Parishes could pool their funds into it and use the Consolidated Account as their checking and savings account. The centralized system made it easy pickings, in mismanagement terms.

Parishes like St. Leo’s, which had refused to join the voluntary system, lost no money. Others were not so lucky. St. Rose in Santa Rosa lost $1.9 million.

The Levada-Brenkle mandated audit released in December showed losses were already pushing $16 million. There was a $12.8 million deficit. Further, in three-and-a-half years (1995-99), Ziemann’s personal discretionary account had gone from $135,000 annually to upwards of a $1 million annually (1998), to $900,000 (first seven months of 1999), with more than a half-million dollars of the 1995-99 total of $2 million in the account paid to parishioner victims of clerical sexual abuse.

Stated The Press Democrat: “In November 1995, when Fr. Gary Timmons was facing civil and criminal complaints that he had abused dozens of boys at a church camp in Humboldt County and at St. Eugene’s rectory in Santa Rosa, Ziemann pledged to pay for counseling for any person molested by a clergyman and for their families. Now, five years later, the records show Ziemann kept his promise.”

Santa Rosa has Catholics spiritually, psychologically and emotionally wounded from at least five sexual abuse cases, of boys, young men and married women. The fallout has included huge settlements. One priest fled overseas, another committed suicide.

Reports show the half-million dollars for ongoing therapy is separate from the $5.3 million the diocese paid out in sexual abuse settlements, only $2 million of which was covered by insurance.

As the Santa Rosa diocese under Levada tightens its fiscal belt, the diocese has sent out questionnaires to abuse-payees undergoing therapy in an attempt to find out who is being paid for what. Some payees, according to documents seen by NCR, are writing to Levada that diocesan requests for explicit details of the nature of their therapy further victimizes them and violates treatment confidentiality.

From Jan. 31 to Feb. 5 the diocese held five “town hall” meetings in various parishes. At the first, in St. Bernard’s, Eureka, Calif., Brenkle announced that the diocese was some $30 million in debt (which represents about $1,500 for every Catholic man, woman and child in the diocese). According to reports, diocesan assets will cover $16 million but the diocese still will need to find nearly $14 million more. The diocese has borrowed $11 million, including $6 million from other California dioceses.

Plans for a spring diocese-wide fundraiser to bail out the diocesan shortfall has already suffered a setback. Organizers, realizing there is little parish support at present to aid the diocese, have said all collected funds will remain in the parishes.

To make matters worse, a Geneva, Switzerland-based lawyer had submitted a $284,000 bill for his work on a diocese-funded $5 million Luxembourg foundation known as “Diocese of Santa Rosa-Europe,” about which only sketchy details are known. It appears to be some form of tax shelter whereby others, not the diocese, can write-off their expensive cars and yachts. Other Santa Rosa money had gone into high-risk European investments and U.S. investments. Some diocesan money remains seized by the federal government in a probe of an illegal California pyramid scheme.

According to The Press Democrat, Brenkle told the Eureka audience that these investments were made because “the bishop and Keyes were beginning to panic. They were talked into going after high-risk investments.” (NCR telephoned and subsequently attempted to see Brenkle at the Santa Rosa chancery, but he would not meet with NCR and referred the newspaper to the San Francisco archdiocese communications department.)

Levada meanwhile has appointed a 19-member diocesan financial council that includes some of the bigger financial and business names in the region: realtors, wine growers and corporate presidents. There’s a woman religious, Dominican Sr. Mary Ann Breidenich, three priests (including Brenkle and Levada) and two retired bankers.

Retired investment banker James Dillon, one-time Bridgeport, Conn., diocesan development director, told “town meeting” Catholics, diocesan leaders will not operate behind a “black curtain. We’ll be around and we’ll be ankle biting any new bishop who thinks he can ride roughshod over this diocese.”

Even so, in Santa Rosa the current signs of the times are “For Sale” signs: on the diocese’s House of Prayer ($750,000) and 16 acres alongside the cathedral (asking price: $3.4 million to $4 million). That land is already collateral for a $5 million dollar operating fund loan. At one point, as church officials looked for property to liquidate in order to sop up some of the $30 million debt, they thought of selling the chancery and renting it back. Then St. Rose Parish pointed to a flaw in that approach -- the chancery property belongs to St. Rose, not the diocese.

The aftermath and the laity

The laypeople’s aims, anxieties and actions can be gauged from three developments: Levada’s decision for St. Mary’s Parish, Ukiah, where he installed a woman as parish administrator; by eavesdropping, courtesy of local newspaper reports, on the five diocese-wide town meetings; and from St. Leo’s parish survey, subsequent organizing, and a Feb. 9 roundtable discussion.

For parishioners at St. Mary’s, Ukiah, some calm was restored at what Levada called “the center of the storm” when Levada placed their parish in the care of a laywoman, Mary Leittem-Thomas, as their pastor Fr. Hans Ruygt took medical leave.

“Levada showed he trusted the laypeople,” Leittem-Thomas, pastoral associate for seven-and-a-half years, told NCR.

The Sunday the diocese learned of Ziemann’s resignation, it was Ruygt who put parish feelings into words. It had been, Ruygt told the people, “very hard to deal with the scandalous behavior of several priests in this diocese. It was very hard for me to deal with the betrayal within the rectory when Jorge admitted he stole money from your Sunday donations. Then to hear that Jorge Hume had made serious allegations against the bishop was incredible, sad and confusing. Then to hear the bishop admit [it] was too much. Can it get any worse than this? It leaves me disgusted and sad and disillusioned. I hardly know what to say. I feel betrayed by the bishop and very, very angry.”

Ruygt went on to ask for prayers for Ziemann, for forgiveness and for recognition that “our reputation as Catholics has been tarnished again,” that “the scandalous situation tests our faith. We will not heal quickly from this latest scandal, but the church has survived for 2,000 years.

“St. Paul tells us today [July 25] that God somehow will make all things work out in the end. In saying this, he is not being simplistic. He is proclaiming the faith we need to have -- a faith that God is with us and though we do not understand how God will do it, God can use adversity to make us stronger, wiser, more loving. God can make us whole again.”

By October, St. Mary’s, over Ruygt’s signature, had sent two dozen questions to Levada, addressing the most important concerns of the parish, from what will be in place “to prevent these scandals happening again,” to “what is the status of the Scrip center?” (Santa Rosa diocese established the National Scrip Center -- and apparently has 51 percent control. The center used by hundreds of parishes nationwide, enables parishes, as a fundraiser, to sell cut price coupons honored by local grocery stores.)

Now, said Leinett-Thomas, “we’re taking care of ourselves.” Without its priest, the parish council is partly pastor, its members are informed who is sick, who needs help, she said. A retired priest and Nacion are conducting the liturgies. As far as the money is concerned, she said, “We’d get scared if they started to centralize again. No one has access to our funds now.”

“I haven’t seen anyone paying a price for this except the parishioners,” Rick Tobin of St. Bernard’s, Eureka, told the first of Santa Rosa diocese’s five town hall meetings. (Meetings were also held in Santa Rosa, Ukiah, Napa and Petaluma.) Brenkle, chief finance officer, replied, “I am sure Bishop Ziemann and Msgr. Keys are in their own private hells right now.”

The sex scandal’s fallout was summarized in Petaluma by 16-year-old Caitlin Hildebrand who told the crowd, “We sit in religion classes every day and right now we are confused and angry. How are we to grow up and be good people when the people who are running the church are not setting good examples at all?”

St. James, Petaluma, parishioner, John Isola, wanted to know why the clergy hadn’t blown the whistle on Ziemann, “How long did you know this was going on? Didn’t you have any resolve to stand up to the bishop?”

Brenkle told Isola, “I didn’t do what I should have done. I have no excuses. We were asleep at the switch.” That prompted Fr. Stephen Canny, St. Joseph’s pastor in Cotati, to say he and other parish priests had tried without success to stop the financial abuse.

“We lost $1.4 million and we were not told anything,” said Canny. “Time and again we tried to get information. We were stonewalled. We had suspicions but we were stonewalled.”

Dr. Sid Mauer in Ukiah was cheered when he called for married priests and women priests. And there was “boisterous applause” when parishioner Monte Hill called for parishioner and priest participation in selecting Ziemann’s replacement.

Msgr. John O’Hare, the gregarious pastor of St. Leo’s, Boyes Hot Springs, happily presides (he’s six months away from retirement) over a parish that faced the unfolding diocesan crisis by organizing for change.

The first goal, said Toni Kuhry, member of a newly created six-member parish communications team, was to immediately hold a series of parish forums. This

was followed by a parish survey taken Jan. 8 and 9 at all Masses, “to obtain a clear sense” of parish reaction to the crises.

The team’s proposal, the one that could have national ramifications, is “for a diocesan congress of the laity, with representatives from all parishes, to join with the priests and bishops in the future administration of the diocese.”

Kuhry told NCR Feb. 17 that other parishes will need to go through something like the St. Leo’s process to gain “the sense of the parish” before they link up as a congress.

The St. Leo survey findings range from parishioners wanting input into the selection of the next bishop, to changes allowing married priests and women priests; from calls for complete financial accountability, to “the openness that is the precursor to trust.”

St. Leo’s pastoral assembly president, Sheila Albert, Toni Kuhry, Msgr. John O’Hare, Fr. Gary Lombardi and retired Santa Rosa pastor Msgr. Gerry Fahey, sat down with NCR to comment on the crises and their implications.

Kuhry attended two of the five town meetings. “I was surprised and heartened by the concern they expressed. We’re making contact. I feel there’s very great hope out there, people who want to make changes,” she said.

“There was an incredibly powerful anger,” said Albert. “We had a parish forum within a week to give people a chance to speak. Then the financial stuff started coming. The anger has settled some since then, and taken a focus, I think, into efforts like the committee Toni [Kuhry] is on.”

Albert also pointed to a systemic change many Catholics want, a say in who is the next bishop.

She quoted from a Levada letter to the people saying not to let Ziemann’s resignation test their faith nor to demand a voice in the selection of his replacement.

Lombardi remarked, “Somebody is involved in the selection process.” Lombardi said a local reporter was called by San Francisco-based Jesuit Fr. Joseph Fessio, a widely known conservative and head of the Ignatius Press, asking for all the information the reporter had on local priests that had not been published, “because I’m working with somebody … in Rome, on the staff of the Congregation for Bishops.”

NCR called Fessio. He denied he was asking around on behalf of the Congregation for Bishops. “I know how that rumor got started,” he said. It resulted from “a passing comment” Fessio said he made while talking about the diocese to a reporter who was “the friend of a friend.”

In Santa Rosa, as far as diocesan finances are concerned, Fahey sees a deep structural problem that affects most U.S. dioceses. “The corporation sole [the way many dioceses are incorporated] as we know it must go. The concept of one person being responsible for every stick of furniture, for all the finances and without accountability, has to go. But I shared the anger voiced considerably at the [town hall] meeting. That will carry us for a while.”

What’s happened to parish finances? Lombardi said, “Our parish is doing fine. The collections have not gone down. We have a gymnasium we have to get finished. We’re going to get a loan, but the people will support it. Their problem is with the diocese. My feeling at the parish is that the people will support us in what we need to do.”

Despite the crisis, at St. Leo’s said O’Hare, “the Christmas collection, important to smaller parishes, doubled from the previous year. They won’t give to the diocese, but they will support us.”

O’Hare said he hopes the people “have the energy to stay involved. I’m impressed with what they’re doing. My only concern is that people when they get back to their businesses, their families, it’s hard for them to keep up.”

Same with the 60 priests who met with Levada in February, said O’Hare. “I don’t know how many will come to the follow-up meeting.”

But the bureaucracy will change if people continue to pressure, he said. And they’re seeing the need for systemic change.

Next week: Message for the wider church? -- St. Leo’s Parish survey

National Catholic Reporter, March 3, 2000