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.

Ziemann routinely conducted Mass in the compound's quaint adobe chapel until last year, when the Vatican got wind that he had violated the conditions of his stay by sometimes filling in for a parish priest in the nearby town of Sierra Vista. Ziemann even sponsored seminars there for couples planning to be married. Since then, the bishop is no longer allowed to conduct Mass even in the monastery chapel.

Ziemann's cottage -- nestled unobtrusively among mesquite trees at the end of an unpaved lane and with panoramic views of distant mountains -- is among the most secluded of the retreat's numerous dwellings. Last year, when a San Francisco TV station dispatched a reporter and camera person to the monastery, Ziemann summoned a driver, raced to a waiting car, and peeled away, leading the news team on a low-speed chase along back-country roads for more than an hour. The episode ended with the bishop's car circling back and disappearing into a garage near the monastery.

But, approached recently by an SF Weekly reporter on the grounds during a morning stroll, he makes no attempt to flee. Ziemann is cordial if unenthusiastic, much like someone who has just been asked to roll up his sleeve for a tetanus shot. But his voice betrays none of the indignity associated with a bishop who, temporarily at least, remains stripped of his clerical faculties.

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.

"This place has been very good for me. I've never felt closer to the Lord in my life," he says, appearing relaxed in khakis and a wool shirt while puttering around the courtyard outside his cottage. Ziemann prays four hours a day, half of which he knocks off upon rising at 6 a.m. most days. He professes to pay little attention to the sex scandal afflicting the church, even as it pertains to him. He recently failed to meet a deadline to respond to a federal racketeering lawsuit against the Dioceses of Tucson and Harrisburg, Pa., in which he is named as a minor participant, explaining that he "turned all of that over to the [Tucson] Diocese for their lawyers to take care of. I don't have any money." (Allison insists that lawyers for the Tucson Diocese "absolutely" are not representing Ziemann in the suit, which claims that church officials refused to ordain a seminarian for blowing the whistle on sexually abusive clerics.)

Asked about Jorge Hume's allegations, the Santa Rosa financial scandal, and his relationships with Levada and Mahony, the bishop declines to answer, citing his attorney's advice. And how does someone who is broke acquire a powerhouse lawyer like Donald Steier? "I can't get into that," Ziemann says. Is the L.A. Archdiocese paying his legal expenses? "I can't comment on any of that." Does he still meet regularly with Archbishop Levada? "I can't talk about that." Does he still talk to his close friend Mahony? "I can't talk about him, either." Why? "It's just something that my counsel has asked me not to discuss."

But when it comes to Richard, Ziemann loosens up. He insists that the claimed abuse "absolutely, positively didn't happen. I never did anything to abuse him. I've never abused anyone in my life. That's what makes it so hurtful." He dismisses as "totally bogus" the notion that he had a sexual relationship with Richard for nearly 20 years. "I never had sex with him. It never happened."

Ziemann doesn't offer an opinion as to why someone who knew him as a boy might feel comfortable enough to ask him for money decades later. But he nonetheless acknowledges giving Richard financial aid while heading the Santa Rosa Diocese. "I gave him money to help him out," Ziemann says, adding that he doesn't recall how much, where the money came from, or how often he supplied it. "I don't know if I gave him checks. I don't recall any 'Saint George Fund.' It could have been."

But then that's one more thing that Bishop Pat decides not to talk about.

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