21 July 1999: Bishop Ziemann quits

Bishop Patrick Ziemann resigns as bishop of Santa Rosa, California, on Wednesday 21 July 1999, after a former Ukiah priest filed a lawsuit accusing the church leader of sexual assault. Ziemann had been name bishop of Santa Rosa on 14 July 1992.

Church representatives issued statements vehemently denying the accusations and saying that the bishop had decided to quit “for the good of the diocese.” “The bishop has refused to buy his reputation and peace of mind from this man at the price of millions from the people of this diocese,” said Ziemann's personal attorney, Joe Piasta of Santa Rosa.

The charges were brought by the Rev. Jorge Hume, who was removed by Ziemann from St. Mary's in Ukiah in 1996 after the priest admitted stealing church money. In a complaint filed Friday 16 July 1999 in Sonoma County Superior Court, Hume alleged a series of sexual abuses by the bishop over a two-year period ending in August 1998.

Hume, who was born on 26 September 1957 in Costa Rica, wrote on 18 July 1992 a letter of application to bishop Ziemann, who accepted him to serve the diocese's Latino community, and ordained him a priest in November 1993..

Hume said that the bishop demanded sex in exchange for his silence about Hume's theft from the Ukiah church.

Ziemann, who as leader of the 140'000-member Diocese of Santa Rosa is the North Coast's most prominent spiritual leader, is seeking an independent church investigation into the allegations in the hope his name will be cleared, according to his attorneys.

Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco will oversee the Santa Rosa Diocese until a new bishop is appointed. Levada issued a statement saying Pope John Paul II on Wednesday 21 July 1999 accepted the bishop's resignation, finishing a process that was begun by Ziemann in April. The archbishop described himself as a lifelong friend of Ziemann's and said he joined “friends throughout California and beyond in thanking him for the energy and gifts he has shared far and wide. Our prayers and good wishes go with him.”

Ziemann's plans and status within the church are unclear. Levada said Ziemann had undergone extensive evaluation and “plans to follow up on the recommendations of his medical advisers as soon as the announcement of his resignation takes place.”

Ziemann's sudden resignation astonished his closest associates, who described the bishop as “shattered” by the accusations swirling around him.

Attorney Piasta said Hume's charges “threaten not only the reputation of a very holy man, but the faith of the thousands of North Bay Catholics that recognize him as what a modern American Catholic leader should be.”

Police inquiry under way

Santa Rosa police said on Wednesday 21 July 1999 that an investigation is being conducted into Hume's allegations that he was coerced into having sex with the bishop in return for Ziemann's promise to keep silent about the reasons behind the priest's removal in 1996 as associate pastor at St. Mary's Church in Ukiah. “We are looking into the possibility of criminal misconduct,” police Cmdr. Scott Swanson said on Wednesday 21 July 1999.

Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullins said he has assigned an investigator to work with police on the investigation. Mullins and Swanson declined to comment further on the scope of the police investigation.

Diocesan representatives said Hume's allegations against Ziemann are untrue. “Bishop Ziemann has denied that any sexual battery occurred and intends to vigorously defend the lawsuit,” said diocesan attorney Paul Gaspari of San Francisco, adding “The diocese and Bishop Ziemann have repeatedly stated that the diocese has not and will not make payments in response to claims to purchase silence.”

Lawsuit “last resort”

Irma Cordova, Hume's Santa Rosa lawyer, said Wednesday that Hume, who was ordained by Ziemann in Ukiah in 1994, filed his lawsuit as a “last resort.” Cordova said that Hume has been emotionally and physically devastated by events of the past two years.

Cordova said that Ziemann in 1996 began threatening to turn the priest over to police for possible criminal action surrounding his admitted theft of $1200 in Ukiah church funds unless he agreed to engage in sex with him. “He was coerced into committing acts that he did not want to do,” Cordova said. Hume's lawsuit charges he was force to engage in acts of oral sex, masturbation and sodomy. Cordova declined to say if Hume, who in January was placed on administrative leave after his removal from his most recent priest assignment at St. John's Church in Napa, was living in the diocese or if he has returned to Costa Rica.

Hume, whose full name is Jorge Hume Salas (according to the Hispanic custom of adding the mother's maiden name), was in San José, Costa Rica, on 08 July 1999 when he signed a declaration in support of his lawsuit, according to court records.

January accusations

Events leading up to the bishop's 21 July 1999 resignation began to unfold in January 1999. A Ukiah nun released documents showing that while he was publicly assuring Catholics he would deal openly with priestly misconduct, Ziemann had hushed up Hume's admission to church officials in 1996 that he had stolen money from the Ukiah church's collections.

Ziemann also kept quiet accusations by four Latino men that Hume had sexually accosted them in his room at the Ukiah rectory. Ukiah police subsequently investigated the complaints early in 1999 but said the statute of limitations had run out in the case. A Napa man also alleged he had been sexually accosted by Hume, but authorities there after an investigation declined to act, citing credibility of witnesses.

Ziemann's lawyer described Hume's legal “attack and financial demands on the bishop and the church” as “reprehensible.” Piasta said that Hume had demanded $8 million to drop his claims. Hume's lawyer said the figure was randomly selected in the beginning “to get their attention. They were ready to sweep this case under the rug.”

Nun praises resignation

Sister Jane Kelly, who went public in January 1999 with her internal struggle to have Hume disciplined for his actions in Ukiah, said she was grateful the bishop stepped down. “At least the wrongdoing done by some priests within our diocese who were protected by the bishop has finally come to an end,” said Kelly, a nun for 52 years. She said that Ziemann “has done the noble thing by resigning.”

In his lawsuit, Hume contended that beginning in late June 1996 he was repeatedly asked to engage in sex with the bishop under the threat of prosecution. Hume said that over a two-year period the bishop demanded sex “on a weekly or twice-weekly basis.” Hume contended that the encounters occurred at the bishop's Santa Rosa residence, in his diocesan office, and in hotel rooms. Hume charged that in 1997 he contracted a venereal disease from the bishop.

The priest contended that when he finally complained to other diocesan officials about the alleged sexual abuse, he was “kicked out of his room at the rectory in Napa and removed from the Napa parish by Ziemann.”

Santa Rosa attorney John Klein, a close Ziemann associate, said that several months earlier the bishop began taking steps to separate the diocese from a scandal. “The threat of this lawsuit has been going on for quite a few months,” Klein said. “Being aware of it and working all the while to try to resolve the thing, he's always anticipated it could end up a lawsuit against him. On that basis, he felt it wise to tender his resignation. I'm sure he will defend himself, but he will defend himself individually without any conflict as to the legal implications for the diocese. He knew it would be a scandal and he didn't want the diocese to be involved in a scandal that is personally directed to him.”