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.

Parishioners in Ukiah's Hispanic community grumbled to Kelly that the priest was hitting them up for extra cash to perform baptisms and weddings. There were rumors, never substantiated, of inappropriate behavior with young men. But it wasn't until 1996, after it was discovered that someone was systematically stealing money from the parish, that the nun's suspicions -- expressed to Ziemann before and after Hume's ordination -- were validated.

The thefts were a mystery, since they continued even after Ukiah police, with the consent of Father Ruygt, set up secret surveillance cameras inside the church. Unknown to the cops, the trusting senior priest had told Hume about the cameras, considering it unthinkable that his fellow cleric could be guilty. His attitude changed on a Sunday in which missing funds were traced to Hume's afternoon Mass. That night Ruygt told a police detective that Hume was removing sealed bank bags from the church safe, taking out cash, and putting back the remainder in freshly sealed bags.

It turned out that Ruygt had talked to the cop despite a phone call from Ziemann instructing him not to cooperate. Then the bishop got on the phone with Fred Keplinger, Ukiah's police chief and a lifelong Roman Catholic, and persuaded him to send his detective away without arresting Hume. (The young priest had admitted taking money, but said he used it to benefit the poor in his native country, although he couldn't produce receipts to substantiate that.)

Chief Benefactor: Ziemann pal Los Angeles Cardinal 
Roger M. Mahony.
Courtesy of AP Worldwide Photos
Chief Benefactor: Ziemann pal Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony.
Chief Benefactor: Ziemann pal Los Angeles Cardinal 
Roger M. Mahony.
Courtesy of AP Worldwide Photos
Chief Benefactor: Ziemann pal Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony.

"It was the most embarrassing mistake of my professional career," says Keplinger, now retired. "I felt very close to Bishop Ziemann and had a lot of respect for him. He confirmed all three of my children." Keplinger says he should have listened to his wife, who was immediately suspicious of Ziemann's motives. "That night she told me, 'You know, you're the most naive police chief in America.'"

Already indebted to Ziemann for his priesthood, Hume now had the bishop to thank for keeping him out of jail. Ziemann sent him to a Santa Rosa therapist and later transferred him to St. Michael's Community, a St. Louis treatment center run by the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious order devoted to helping priests with emotional and psychosexual disorders.

If Ziemann had deliberately tried to maneuver Hume into a vulnerable position, he couldn't have done a better job. And the bishop soon began collecting his payback. Hume told police his first sexual encounter with Ziemann occurred in June 1996, shortly before he left for St. Louis. It allegedly took place at the bishop's residence after Ziemann asked him to come there to pick up his airline ticket.

Hume's account, as related in police reports, was that he told Ziemann he was depressed and began to cry. The bishop embraced him and began kissing him on his face and neck, Hume said. Later, at Ziemann's insistence, the men orally copulated each other.

Ziemann did more than merely call St. Louis regularly to check on Hume's progress. In July, toward the end of the priest's treatment, he flew there and was met at the airport by Hume and a chauffeur from St. Michael's who took him to a hotel. Once there, Ziemann sent the chauffeur away and insisted that Hume come up to his room since the men had a lot to talk about.

Hume alleges that Ziemann undressed him, had sex with him, and after taking him out to dinner, slipped a wad of bills into his pants pocket and told him to buy something nice for himself. The priest also alleges that Ziemann had sex with him the following day in a private room at the treatment center, minutes after an all-important evaluation to determine his fitness to return to California. Once back in Santa Rosa, he began wearing the beeper on Ziemann's orders. Hume told police that the bishop demanded sex once or twice a week for two years.

Eventually, Ziemann found Hume to be a liability and tried to get rid of him. Hume's conduct, including being seen at a Napa pizza parlor with a young man in his lap, fueled more rumors. First, Ziemann tried to send him back to Costa Rica. He then offered to send him somewhere in the United States for a college education -- at church expense.

Angered at being cut loose, Hume turned to the authorities. But there was little enthusiasm on the part of either Santa Rosa police or the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office for going after a sitting bishop accused of extorting one of his priests for sex when the accuser had been under criminal suspicion.

Then Hume dropped a bombshell. In 1999 he sued Ziemann, accusing the bishop of sexual assault. The same day the suit was filed, Ziemann resigned even as he vehemently denied the accusations.

The bishop's spin doctors went into action. He was portrayed as stepping down for the good of the diocese, and his lawyers -- pointing to a $10 million settlement demand by Hume's attorney, Irma Cordova, during secret negotiations aimed at keeping the matter out of the courts -- pictured the bishop as a hero willing to sacrifice his lofty position to protect the diocese from an extortionist. Cordova insists the sum demanded of the diocese "was merely to get their attention" after months of fruitless negotiations in which diocesan lawyers didn't appear to take her client seriously.

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