Bishop Bad Boy

Santa Rosa's charismatic Catholic bishop got busted shaking down a priest for sex. But he had friends in high places -- and they served him well.

Despite initial denials by Levada's spokesmen, the archbishop has occupied a prime position of oversight regarding Ziemann's spiritual rehabilitation. From the time Ziemann arrived in Arizona after several months of sex counseling at a church-sponsored treatment center on the East Coast, Levada has presided over a five-member committee (which also includes the Vatican's ambassador to the United States) intended to provide his friend with spiritual help -- and presumably to determine his fitness for any future clerical role.

Levada declined to be interviewed for this article. A spokesman said the archbishop feels he has already sufficiently addressed Ziemann and related issues.

If Ziemann has Levada at least partly to thank for his prosecution-free exit from Santa Rosa, he may be uniquely positioned to return favors -- especially those extended by his chief benefactor, L.A.'s powerful Cardinal Mahony. Indeed, court documents and interviews with abuse victims as well as current and former priests suggest a pattern of Ziemann being made aware of sex-abuse allegations lodged against priests during the many years he served the L.A. Archdiocese that were unheeded and subsequently covered up. Some of these relate to the period before Mahony became archbishop, while others occurred during the time Ziemann served the cardinal as auxiliary bishop.

Ziemann protector Manuel Moreno, who recently 
resigned as bishop of Tucson, Ariz.
Ziemann protector Manuel Moreno, who recently resigned as bishop of Tucson, Ariz.
San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada helped 
Ziemann skip away from Santa Rosa with criminal 
impunity.
Courtesy of AP Wideworld Photos
San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada helped Ziemann skip away from Santa Rosa with criminal impunity.

Plaintiff's attorneys and others agree that Ziemann could become a legal millstone around Mahony's neck and at least a major embarrassment for Levada and Moreno should he be compelled to testify in a civil or criminal proceeding. In recent weeks, Mahony's vicar for clergy and the vicar's three predecessors have testified before a grand jury in Ventura County, the first top officials from the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese to be subpoenaed. L.A. County prosecutors have filed criminal charges against six of Mahony's priests, and law enforcement sources say as many as a dozen others could be arrested in coming months.

"[Ziemann's] being [at the monastery] is sort of like having him in a witness protection program," says A.W. Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former Benedictine monk who has written extensively about clergy sex abuse. "From the standpoint of church leaders, I'm sure they think of him as better off out of sight and out of mind."

Such a conclusion may be more than speculation. Ziemann enjoys top-drawer legal representation in Donald Steier, a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer whose clients include several accused priests with close ties to Mahony. Steier's involvement is all the more intriguing since Ziemann contends he is broke, his Santa Rosa troubles are presumed resolved, and no criminal charges are pending against him.

But that could change.

At least two men have come forward to claim that Ziemann molested them as altar boys in the L.A. suburb of Huntington Park during his first assignment as a priest in the late '60s. The bishop denies the charges. But the accusations of one of the men, a 47-year-old Oregon resident who says Ziemann paid him for sex for nearly two decades, are likely to open old wounds in Santa Rosa.

That's because the accuser (who spoke to SF Weekly on condition that he be identified only by his first name, Richard) contends that although he and the bishop stopped having sex in 1986, Ziemann continued to give him money until shortly before stepping down from his Santa Rosa post. If that's true, the source of the money could draw the ire of those still upset that Levada didn't provide a full accounting of how millions of church dollars were squandered, and who insist that the archbishop was more interested in quelling scandal than pursuing justice. Richard is suing Ziemann and the church for alleged sexual abuse, and L.A. police investigators recently interviewed the Oregon man in what may be a harbinger of more serious trouble. Richard says that Ziemann paid him "several thousands of dollars" while he was Santa Rosa's bishop, and that some of the money was drawn on an account called the "Saint George Fund." If so, Ziemann may be guilty at least of impish humor.

The initial "G" in his name stands for George.


Sister Jane Kelly was suspicious of Ziemann from the first time she met him.

A month after he was installed as bishop, Ziemann went to Ukiah to make a request of the nun, popular for her work on behalf of the poor. He had brought Hume, a Costa Rica native, to the diocese as a priest candidate and wanted Kelly to help him learn the fundamentals of parish life. Hume, then 35, barely spoke English. But Ziemann didn't seem to care. He put Hume on the fast track. In 1993, after only 15 months as a deacon, Hume was ordained as a priest and assigned to Ukiah's St. Mary of the Angels parish as an understudy to the much older pastor, Father Hans Ruygt.

Long before Hume's ordination, Kelly had sized him up as a con artist. (A police investigation later revealed that he had been kicked out of seminaries in Honduras, Mexico, and the United States, and had been accused of passing himself off as a priest to collect money in Costa Rica and New Jersey.) Before long, there were hints of trouble.

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