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.

"The whole thing was swept under the rug," he says. "Eventually people go on with their lives and stop asking questions."

Among the curious were investigators from the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office. "It was, at the least, an atrocious example of malfeasance, worthy of a made-for-TV movie," recalls prosecutor Gary Medvigy. "But it would have taken a federal task force to figure out all the intricate financial dealings of the diocese. It was beyond the scope of what we could comfortably investigate locally." His former boss, Mike Mullens, who was DA at the time, says the manner in which a bishop's authority is structured within the church presents problems for investigators. "Within certain limits, a bishop can pretty much do anything he wants [with money]," Mullens says. "There's no fraud if you have the ability to use funds any way you wish." He was convinced that without the full cooperation of diocesan officials, he says, "we couldn't prove a case." Asked if he believes those officials leveled with him, he replies bluntly, "No."

One question that kept popping up during Levada's barnstorm of the diocese was who'd pay for future sex-abuse claims. The reassuring answer, provided by diocesan spokesmen, was that the diocese had procured insurance coverage for that through the Ordinary Mutual Insurance Co. But those officials didn't mention everything they knew about the insurer, even as they told Ziemann's former subjects that their money would no longer be doled out to make sex-abuse lawsuits go away.

Better Times: Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann, before he 
resigned his Santa Rosa post in 1999.
Courtesy of the Press Democrat
Better Times: Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann, before he resigned his Santa Rosa post in 1999.
Levada gets an earful from whistle-blower Sister Jane 
Kelly in 1999.
Courtesy of the Press Democrat
Levada gets an earful from whistle-blower Sister Jane Kelly in 1999.

Ordinary Mutual was incorporated in Vermont in 1987, the same year the Scrip Center came into existence. But it's a self-insurance program, and its members consist solely of Catholic churches in California, Arizona, and Idaho. According to reports on file with Vermont insurance officials, Ordinary Mutual and the Scrip Center had something else in common. From 1993 until the end of 1999 -- including when Levada hit the road to clean up after Ziemann -- Ordinary Mutual's president was none other than Monsignor Thomas J. Keys.

G. Patrick Ziemann's pedigree alone might have marked him for clerical stardom.

One of eight children in an old-money Pasadena family headed by a prominent Catholic lawyer, he grew up in a home where it wasn't extraordinary for an archbishop to be a dinner guest. His father, J. Howard Ziemann, was a graduate of Santa Clara University with a law degree from Georgetown. Active in Catholic affairs, he served on a variety of charitable boards and was appointed to the Superior Court bench.

Patrick's maternal grandfather -- the writer, lawyer, and orator Joseph Scott -- was one of the most prominent Catholic laymen in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Scott was defense counsel, along with Clarence Darrow, during the famous 1911 trial in which two union-activist brothers were convicted of blowing up the Los Angeles Times building. A staunch Republican, he placed Herbert Hoover's name into nomination at the 1928 Republican National Convention. Ironically, considering his grandson's woes, he was a leading Catholic voice in railing against the immorality of the movie industry. His work on behalf of the church's Legion of Decency campaign in the 1930s led to Hollywood's adopting the precursor of today's movie ratings system.

But Patrick didn't rely on family connections to climb the ecclesiastical ladder. A "lifer" committed to pursuing the priesthood from an early age, he was bright, energetic, and ambitious, those who know him say. Like Mahony, he was marked for a fast rise while still at St. John's and, after graduating in 1967, was sent away for a secular degree before being assigned to full-time parish work.

Ziemann took a graduate degree in education at Mount St. Mary's College, in L.A.'s exclusive Brentwood, and obtained credentials as a secondary-school teacher. Fluent in Spanish, he was a logical choice to be sent to St. Matthias Parish in heavily Latino Huntington Park, east of downtown Los Angeles, in 1967, even as he completed his graduate studies.

It wasn't long after Ziemann arrived at the parish that Richard, his Oregon accuser, says the priest took him under his wing. Then 11, Richard was a gawky sixth-grader shooting hoops on the church playground when Ziemann, a regular participant in the games, entered his life.

"He became like a father figure to me," says Richard. "He was very charismatic, someone to look up to."

Although his parents weren't churchgoers, Richard says they insisted that he and his four siblings attend and were delighted when Ziemann chose him to be an altar boy. After a round of basketball, Ziemann invited the boy to the rectory, where they had their first sexual encounter, Richard says. "I was hot and sweaty, and he told me I could clean up in his room," he recalls. Ziemann came into the bathroom and fondled his genitals as he was taking a shower, Richard says.

Their encounters, he claims, soon escalated to masturbation and oral sex. Richard says he was "confused and naive" at the time. "He would tell me not to worry about it, that that's just the way things were and that everything would be fine." Richard recalls going to confession on Sundays, finding Ziemann behind the dark confessional screen, and awkwardly revealing his guilt over having sex with the priest. "He would tell me to say 10 'Our Fathers' and 10 'Hail Marys.'"

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