New Times Los Angeles | June 13, 2002
At St. John's, "nasty stuff happens, but you're conditioned not to talk about it. There's a tradition of people minding their own business and not rocking the boat."
Top: St. John's Seminary, Camarillo, California.
Below: Sex-abusing clerics and St. John's alums whom Cardinal Roger Mahony has protected. Top to bottom: Michael Baker, Carl Sutphin, Michael Wempe and former Santa Rosa Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann.
In covering up for predator priests, Cardinal Roger Mahony has stayed true to a prestigious old boys' network of fellow alums from St. John's Seminary in Camarillo.
By Ron Russell
When Roger M. Mahony pulled the plug on child-molesting priest Carl Sutphin earlier this year after elevating him only recently to associate pastor of the soon-to-open Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral downtown, the cardinal's visible anguish stemmed from more than just embarrassment. In announcing the 69-year-old Sutphin's departure in April, Mahony first expressed sorrow -- not for the pedophile cleric's victims, whom the cardinal had misled and ignored for years -- but for the priest. Saying he felt bad for each of the several clerics he was forced to let go as a condition of settling a lawsuit last year that enabled him to avoid testifying about another of his predator pals (disgraced former Santa Rosa bishop G. Patrick Ziemann), Mahony expressed special sympathy for Sutphin. Astonishingly, considering the gravity of the accusations against Sutphin, who had lived near Mahony in an apartment at the cathedral until his dismissal, His Eminence lamented that he felt "particularly [sad] for him because if this had been a few months from now, he would have been gone anyway [as a result of ordinary retirement]."
Barely a week after revealing Sutphin's departure, Mahony was forced to disclose having tossed overboard another longtime friend and child molester, Father Michael Wempe. This, after a reporter began asking questions about Wempe at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where Mahony had stashed him as a chaplain without bothering to tell hospital officials that he was a known pedophile. Mahony had even been the star guest at a luncheon in Wempe's honor at the hospital as recently as two years ago. Shortly after the Wempe mea culpa, a 34-year-old West Hollywood man walked into a sheriff's substation to file a complaint about yet another of Mahony's longtime intimates, Father Michael Baker, who is accused of molesting numerous children during more than a decade after Mahony welcomed him back to the fold in the mid-1980s despite knowing then of his history of pedophilia. As it turns out, Mahony had torpedoed Baker in 1999 and kept it quiet by imposing a "confidentiality agreement" on the victims' families and their lawyers after paying them more than $1.3 million in church funds.
But Sutphin, Wempe, Baker and Ziemann have more in common than merely their reputations as sexual predators. At one time or another, each cleric has been a member of Mahony's inner circle, part of the same old-boys' network born from years of shared experiences. As with others close to Mahony, a common denominator is St. John's Seminary College in Camarillo, the secluded 92-acre hilltop institution that has stocked the parishes of the Los Angeles Archdiocese and beyond with Roman Catholic priests since it opened in 1939. Sutphin and Wempe were classmates of Mahony's there. Ziemann arrived in 1963, the year after Mahony graduated. But those who know Mahony and Ziemann say their paths have interconnected at St. John's and elsewhere since at least the 1960s. After Mahony became archbishop of Los Angeles in 1985, Ziemann's stock soared as one of his most promising protégés. Mahony and Baker (St. John's class of '74) became close after Mahony took over the L.A. Archdiocese from the late Cardinal Timothy Manning, another St. John's alumnus.
Inside the cavernous refectory of the St. Johns' theology school, a short distance down the hill from the seminary college where students spend the first four of their seven years of priestly training, the walls are lined with framed photos of graduates who've achieved ordination. It is an impressive assemblage. Besides cardinals Mahony and Manning, the walls are peppered with bishops and their top lieutenants, past and present, from dioceses all over the country. The photographs also illustrate just how powerful a figure Mahony has become within the hierarchy of the American church, based on the numerous contemporaries and protégés who've ascended to lofty clerical positions.
Among his former classmates, to name a few, are William J. Levada, archbishop of San Francisco; George Niederhauer, bishop of Salt Lake City; Justin S. Regali, archbishop of St. Louis; Manuel D. Moreno, bishop of Tucson, Arizona; Tod D. Brown, bishop of the Diocese of Orange, and John T. Steinbock, bishop of Fresno. (Steinbock is the prelate who earlier this year stepped forward to investigate a Fresno woman's claims -- later deemed by Fresno police not to be credible -- that Mahony had molested her when she was a high school student many years ago.) And that's not to mention a host of auxiliary bishops, chancellors and vicars general with ties to Mahony who are waiting in the wings to step into positions of greater authority. "Mahony has developed as impressive a bench as any [Catholic] leader in the country, and while they may not always appreciate what he does, they're beholden to him for the power he exerts [for] them," says a priest and St. John's alum who has known the cardinal for many years. That it should be that way is no mystery. "What you have to remember is that you don't merely attend seminary with someone, you survive it with them, and the bonds become incredibly strong, like a lifetime brotherhood," says Will Allotto, who attended St. John's in the late 1960s and early '70s before deciding the priesthood wasn't for him.
In Mahony's case, such bonds help explain why one of the most powerful hierarchs in the American Catholic church -- whose name, until recently, had been whispered as among those with a shot at becoming pope -- would go to great lengths to harbor pedophile priests while turning his back on their victims. As detailed in past articles in New Times, he has consistently blocked efforts by victims to extract justice from their molesters. He has resisted cooperating with law enforcement, assigned emissaries to keep scandals from getting into the newspapers and, as a last resort, has authorized spending millions of dollars to quietly settle sex-abuse claims while imposing strict "confidentiality agreements" on victims and their lawyers to buy their silence. Indeed, despite his recent efforts at image mending -- including the hiring of Sitrick and Co., the Enron Corporation's former public relations firm -- Mahony has established a record every bit as shameful as Boston's much-maligned Cardinal Bernard Law during his 17 years as archbishop of Los Angeles, and earlier when he was bishop of Stockton.
Nowhere is the cohesion of the Mahony buddy system more evident than in the case of G. Patrick Ziemann, a prize student whom Mahony had elevated to auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles before persuading the Vatican to appoint him as Santa Rosa's bishop. According to police reports, Ziemann forced a young priest brought up from Costa Rica (who quickly got into trouble that required the bishop's help) to wear a beeper so that Ziemann could beckon him for sex at all hours. Some of the trysts occurred inside the bishop's diocesan office. Having averted criminal prosecution, Ziemann is still a Roman Catholic bishop, conducting mass and otherwise holding counsel in comfortable exile at a monastery in the Arizona desert outside Tucson. (Sources say he is a fixture of Tucson's artsy party scene, and was even spotted recently at a karaoke bar.) It was near Tucson that an attorney for the sex abuse victim whose court settlement gave birth to Mahony's much-ballyhooed "zero tolerance" policy deposed Ziemann in the spring of last year. Shortly thereafter, Mahony was put on notice that he, too, would be expected to testify in court.
Church officials, including those within Mahony's inner circle who have helped make Ziemann's kid-glove treatment possible, are reluctant to discuss the one-time Mahony golden boy, and no wonder. New Times has learned that Mahony chum and longtime Ziemann friend and fellow St. John's alum William Levada, the archbishop of San Francisco, is playing a prominent role in supervising Ziemann's "spiritual rehabilitation." This, despite heated denials by Levada's spokesman that the archbishop has had nothing to do with Ziemann's supervision in Arizona. Levada publicly lauded Ziemann on the day he resigned his Santa Rosa post, even as the bishop insisted that the allegations against him were false. Even the location of Ziemann's exile hardly seems coincidental. The bishop in whose jurisdiction the monastery is located is none other than Manuel Moreno, a classmate of both Mahony's and Levada's at St. John's and another longtime Ziemann friend.
Like Mahony, Moreno has his own history of harboring pedo-priests, including Monsignor Robert Trupia, whose alleged on-campus sexual escapades have contributed to St. John's checkered reputation as a hotbed of priestly promiscuity. Trupia's "Come and See" weekends, in which he sponsored young prospective seminarians from Tucson for visits to his alma mater, were legendary at St. John's during the 1980s. Although a housekeeper caught him in bed with a student in 1982, triggering a complaint that went straight from Cardinal Manning to Moreno in Tucson, Trupia, incredibly, continued to cruise St. John's for another six years, until an incident involving sex with a young drug addict in the theology school's bell tower led to his finally being banned from the campus. The dioceses of Tucson and of Orange earlier this year quietly settled a lawsuit in which nine former altar boys and another man had accused Trupia and three other priests of molesting them in Arizona and California more than 25 years ago, shortly after Trupia completed his priestly studies at St. John's.
As the seminary of the L.A. Archdiocese, St. John's has long trained priests not only from Southern California, but from other parts of the United States and the world. After seminaries in the dioceses of Tucson and Fresno were shuttered years ago, St. John's became the de facto training center for seminarians in those areas. Mahony, who occupies a comfortable Spanish-style cottage on the grounds during his occasional visits, has left an indelible mark, not always to everyone's liking. Faced with declining enrollments and spiraling costs, he miffed many in 1987 by selling off a treasure trove of antiquarian books and manuscripts -- including a rare Gutenberg Bible -- that had been donated to the school by the family of the late oil baron Edward Doheny Jr.
The Doheny name adorns each of the two libraries on the grounds. The one at the theology school is named for Edward while the other at the seminary college up the hill bears the name of his wife, Estelle. The manuscript sales by Christie's auction house reaped $20 million, ostensibly to set up an endowment to support St. John's and seminaries at Mission Hills and near downtown Los Angeles. But not long after the sales, Mahony closed the two other institutions. Indeed, with a combined enrollment of about 200 at the seminary college and the theology school, St. John's student population is barely half what it was a quarter-century ago. And the numbers would undoubtedly be more anemic if not for Mahony's strategy of pulling in seminarians from Latin America and as far away as Sri Lanka. Still, only 12 priests were ordained out of St. John's last year, and of them, only two were from the Los Angeles archdiocese, with its 3.6 million Roman Catholics.
Mahony's influence may also be felt in another area. Sources say that, while the seminary has had its share of sex-related problems, it has avoided the public scandals that have afflicted some other Catholic seminaries largely because of the buttoned-down culture that Mahony has fostered. Other seminaries haven't been as lucky. For example, St. Francis Seminary at the University of San Diego became so notorious as a magnate for actively gay priests and students that author Jason Berry devoted a chapter to it in his 1992 book Lead Us Not Into Temptation, a scathing exposé of priestly sex abuse. Even former St. John's students who speak critically of their alma mater insist that the school's reputation within priestly circles was never as wild as, say, St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, outside San Francisco. "At St. Patrick's [seminarians] talked about hitting the gay bars on Friday nights as if it were as routine as going to a Giants game," says an ex-St. John's student, who used to visit a friend at the Menlo Park campus in the late '70s and early '80s. At St. John's, "nasty stuff happens, but you're conditioned not to talk about it," says another former seminarian with ties to the school. "There's a tradition of people minding their own business and not rocking the boat."
One person who didn't play the game is former student Richard Nason, who came to St. John's from the San Fernando Valley in 1979. In an affidavit filed in an Orange County Superior Court case involving sex-abuse victim Ryan DiMaria, who received the settlement ($5.2 million) from the L.A. Archdiocese last year that kept Mahony off the witness stand, Nason contends that a former St. John's instructor sexually assaulted at least two of his classmates and made unwelcome sexual advances toward him. New Times has learned that allegations of sexual misconduct have swirled around this priest -- who will be referred to here as Father X -- since his days as an instructor at a junior seminary for high school boys in the early 1970s. Yet Father X was never prosecuted criminally, and neither has any of his alleged victims filed civil claims against him. The family of one L.A.-area victim -- a ninth-grader when the abuses occurred -- say they reported Father X to the junior seminary's officials in the mid-1970s and were assured that he would be kept away from children. They say they didn't press charges because they didn't want to harm the church. Father X was transferred to St. John's in 1976. He is now a chaplain at a children's hospital.
Nason's story is significant because among the few confidantes with whom he shared it was his spiritual advisor, Ziemann, the disgraced bishop and member of Mahony's inner circle. Not only did Nason tell Ziemann in 1980 what was going on at St. John's, he also told him about another of his friends, in Santa Ana, who had confided to Nason that he was being abused by a teacher at Mater Dei High School, Monsignor Michael Harris. Ziemann, a friend and fellow St. John's alum of Harris', did nothing about Nason's revelations. Years later, after young DiMaria accused Harris of sexually assaulting him while a student at Santa Margarita High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, where Harris had become the principal, the discovery of Ziemann's inaction became a pivotal element in DiMaria's record-setting settlement with the church.
As first reported by New Times, Mahony authorized the pay-out last August shortly before he would have been forced to testify at DiMaria's civil trial and answer potentially embarrassing questions about Ziemann, who had already been deposed by DiMaria's attorney. More significantly, as part of the settlement, DiMaria forced Mahony to accept 11 conditions, including the "zero tolerance" policy toward priestly abusers. It was the DiMaria settlement that forced Mahony to give Sutphin and the others their walking papers in late February and early March. Even now, as he continues to resist L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley's demands to surrender all files related to more than 50 current and former priests under investigation, the cardinal has turned DiMaria's demand for "zero tolerance" into a public relations mantra, filching it as his own.
Yet, until now, almost nothing has surfaced publicly about Father X, the priest whose alleged depravations at St. John's inadvertently set in motion events that may ultimately help undermine Mahony's future as head of the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese. Nason, now 42, declined to be interviewed for this article. An intermediary says he prefers to put what happened years ago behind him. In his affidavit, he describes himself as someone who from an early age was determined to become a priest, having attended high school seminary at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Mission Hills. But his world was jolted within months of arriving at St. John's in the fall of 1979, after he "discovered that sexual abuse was going on and that friends of mine had been sexually assaulted" by Father X. He continues in his affidavit that he felt harassed after one of the alleged victims told classmates "that [Father X] really wanted me." Nason says he went immediately to the dean of students to tell him about the priest's conduct, which he says was widely discussed among St. John's students. "[The dean] told me that it was impossible that [Father X] was acting in this manner and further told me that if such a thing were going on, that I had to be involved in it; otherwise no action could be taken. I understood him to mean that I would have to submit to sexual advances by [Father X] in order to have any grounds to make a complaint." The dean was not mentioned by name in Nason's affidavit. Other sources who identified him say he left the seminary and the priesthood years ago.
Nason thought he was doing the right thing. But seminary officials soon put him -- not Father X -- on the defensive. Because of the allegations, the dean ordered him to attend three sessions with a psychiatrist "and then discuss my situation with [the dean] to see if I required further therapy." Nason says that after he completed the sessions, he never heard from the dean and assumed that all was as well as could be expected. But in the spring of 1980, the dean called him in and informed him that his grades were deficient and that "because of my refusal to see a psychiatrist, I would be dismissed from St. John's." Nason, who of course had seen the psychiatrist, acknowledges in the affidavit that his grades had suffered during his first semester but insists that they had improved by the time he was asked to leave. Finally, in May of 1980, he turned to Zieman, who had been one of his teachers at Our Lady Queen of Angels, telling him not only about the allegations involving Father X, but about Harris' alleged abuse of his friend at Mater Dei. "Disillusioned and extremely upset," Nason packed his bags and left St. John's not long after baring his soul to Ziemann.
Nason's stand against priestly sex abuse may have gotten him kicked out of St. John's, but it didn't go unnoticed. "We considered it an act of bravery," says a priest in the L.A. area, who was a student at St. John's when Nason was there. Although Nason may have never known it, the priest recalls that Father X and Zieman were close friends. Like Nason, he insists that Father X's antics were "common knowledge" at the seminary during the late 1970s. In fact, he says Father X was so well-known for "coming on" to young students that at least one student to whom he was assigned to be "spiritual director" refused to attend sessions with him. "All he wanted to talk about [during spiritual direction] was sex," says the priest. "He would light a single candle and sit down next to you on a sofa. It was pretty sick." The priest says that during one such session, Father X told a student that he "needed to open up more sexually" and that in an unsuccessful attempt at seduction, added, "You can't hope to understand what a mortal sin is until you commit one."
Father X was shoved out at St. John's the same year Nason left, and not because seminary officials had suddenly learned of his appetite for young men. Rather, there was panic that his exploits were about to hit the newspapers. The catalytic event was a dorm party at Loyola Marymount University in the spring of 1980 attended by several seminarians from St. John's. "Some of the St. John's guys got really drunk and started saying much more about [Father X] than they intended to," says the ex-seminarian source. "Afterward, the word was that someone from LMU who was really disgusted by what he'd heard was about to tell the whole story to an L.A Times reporter." Alarmed, several seminary students went to the dean to let him know about the LMU incident and "to more or less warn him that unless something was done about [Father X], there would be a mess in the press." That night, Father X didn't show up for evening prayer. "He just disappeared," the source says. "They cleaned out his room and packed him off, and none of us ever knew what happened to him."
But one tawdry era at St. John's soon gave way to another. The first hint of it occurred in February of 1982, when a female housekeeper employed at the seminary college up the hill from the theology school opened a dorm room door and found Monsignor Robert Trupia -- a popular St. John's alumnus who was then a rising star in the Diocese of Tucson -- in bed with the young male student. She reported her startling discovery to seminary officials, who told Cardinal Manning. He, in turn, placed a call to the Most Reverend Manuel Moreno in Arizona, an L.A.-area native and Mahony's former St. John's classmate who was then about to be installed as Tucson's new bishop.
As with Mahony's harboring of predator priests with whom he has strong attachments, the Trupia story says much about the intractability of old boys' networks among Catholic prelates and why the American hierarchy seems incapable of purging its bad apples. Trupia was ordained in 1973, and his first assignment upon graduating from St. John's was as associate pastor of St. Francis of Assisi church in Yuma, Arizona. There, according to plaintiffs in a lawsuit settled in January of this year against him and three other priests (two of them now deceased), he almost immediately began molesting 11- and 12-year-old altar boys in the rectory after Sunday services. In 1976, former police officer Ted Oswald, then a lay brother at St. Francis and now a priest in Northern California, became suspicious while helping some of the boys with a school project. According to one of the few records in the case that isn't under court seal, one of the altar boys wanted to know if Trupia was a "queer." After Oswald asked what prompted the question, the boys unleashed in vivid detail what Trupia had done to them. Oswald asked the boys to write out statements, which he took to superiors at the diocese. Within days, Bishop Francis J. Green, Moreno's predecessor, removed Trupia from Yuma.
The boys' families were told that he would be treated for pedophilia, but sources familiar with the case say there is no evidence that he underwent any treatment. Instead, he was transferred to faraway Tucson to a parish and school where, astonishingly, he was assigned to teach sex education. In fact, within months of the transfer, Green (who is now deceased), promoted Trupia to vice chancellor, which ostensibly required not only an "irreproachable reputation" but a doctorate in canon law, neither of which Trupia possessed. But it gets more bizarre. In 1977, Green sponsored Trupia as a candidate to the Vatican for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a rare honor. That same year, the diocesan chancellor rebuked Oswald, the whistle-blower, who was still a lay brother, for, as the chancellor put it, "getting our priests in trouble." It was later revealed that some of the records Oswald had turned over to the diocese about Trupia had been destroyed. His checkered past seemingly behind him, Trupia was bestowed the title of monsignor in 1979.
By that time, he also had begun to sponsor the "Come and See" weekends for prospective seminarians from Tucson to visit St. John's. (As murmurs about Trupia spread, campus wags vulgarly referred to the visits as "See and Cum" weekends.) As at other seminaries, such visitations were routine. Typically, visitors -- mostly high school students -- signed up through the dean's office and were assigned a partner from a list of volunteer students with whom they would share a room and tag along to classes, religious services and meals for up to a week. The idea was to give the students a taste of seminary life. "It's analogous to what universities do when recruiting student athletes," says an L.A. priest who hosted visitors while at St. John's in the 1980s. But with Trupia, it was different, he recalls. "Trupia always kept his boys to himself, and didn't like to let them around anyone except [seminarians] who were from the Tucson diocese." It was during such a visit that the housekeeper walked in on Trupia in 1982.
Despite the outrageous spectacle, sources familiar with the case say Moreno, who was by then Tucson's new bishop, chose not to investigate the incident. Ten years later, facing accusations of covering up for the monsignor, Moreno finally provided a report of the incident to a diocesan "sensitive claims committee." Even so, the committee didn't pursue it. "Trupia was essentially running a hotel for boys at St. John's," says Lynn Cadigan, a Tucson attorney who represented the 10 plaintiffs who accused Trupia and the other priests of molesting them.
It wasn't until 1988 -- six years after the incident witnessed by the housekeeper -- that Trupia was banished from St. John's after an episode in the theology school's landmark bell tower that scandalized even some of the more jaded observers of his weekend forays. The tower, which soars above the school's ornate Spanish rococo chapel, contains three rooms on separate levels that for years served as living quarters for an elderly priest in charge of seminary maintenance. The priest moved out in 1988, leaving the tower empty. Sources say that on a visit to St. John's shortly thereafter, Trupia was accompanied by a young man (not a plaintiff in the lawsuit) with whom he had been close for several years in Tucson. A well-placed source in Arizona says that Trupia brought the young man, whom he was helping to overcome a drug problem, to the bell tower ostensibly to "detoxify" him. While they were there, the source says, they also engaged in sex. The story of the bell tower liaison quickly circulated through the St. John's grapevine. A few days later, presumably with the knowledge of Mahony, Trupia was declared persona non grata at the seminary.
Still, Moreno took no action against Trupia. And neither was any action taken after allegations surfaced in January of 1989 that a night watchman at the Tucson parish residence where the monsignor was living had spotted him embracing a young man on the grounds there. After Tucson police began investigating Trupia in the summer of that year, he was shipped off to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., to at last pursue doctoral studies. But in 1992, his Yuma past came back to haunt him, when the mother of one of his alleged victims demanded an investigation. After Moreno alerted Trupia in April of 1992 that Tucson police were again sniffing at his heels, Trupia threatened to disclose sexual relationships involving a former bishop of Phoenix, the Most Reverend James A. Rausch (who had died in 1981) and a prominent archbishop unless he was allowed to retire gracefully, another source familiar with the matter says. Moreno disclosed the alleged threat in 1995 as part of a secret canonical affidavit, this source says.
Trupia was arrested early last year and jailed to await trial for molesting the Yuma altar boys. But less than 24 hours later, prosecutors reversed themselves and decided they couldn't charge him in a 25-year-old case because of Arizona's statutes of limitation. Trupia, who is still a priest but on inactive leave, lives in Maryland. Numerous attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. Moreno, now 71, who has largely enjoyed a free ride from Tucson's studiously uninquisitive newspapers, declined to be interviewed by New Times. After the lawsuit involving Trupia and the others was settled in January, purportedly for several million dollars, Moreno issued the briefest of statements. In Mahonyesque fashion, he acknowledged that there had been "failings in the past by some within our diocese to respond appropriately to reports of abuse." Not surprisingly, he didn't include himself in those failings.
Five years Mahony's junior, Ziemann, now 60, was one of the more promising of the cardinal's golden boys. Like Mahony, he was a "lifer" who had committed to pursuing the priesthood from an early age and attended junior seminary instead of regular high school. Their family backgrounds couldn't have been more different. Mahony is the son of a North Hollywood electrician who moonlighted as a poultry rancher during the cardinal's childhood. Ziemann is from an old-money Pasadena family, the grandson of late writer, lawyer and orator Joseph Scott, one of the most prominent Catholic laymen in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. His pedigree alone might have made him a likely Mahony protégé. But he was also bright, energetic, ambitious and charismatic. "When Ziemann walked into a room he owned it," recalls a former St. John's colleague. With two years of seminary training elsewhere under his belt, Ziemann arrived at St. John's in 1963, the year after Mahony graduated. He finished theology school in the class of '67.
Both men were marked for stardom when at St. John's. Instead of being assigned parish work upon ordination, each was sent away for secular degrees. Mahony headed to the nation's capital to attend the Catholic University of America, where he earned a master's degree in social service. Ziemann took a graduate degree in education at Mount St. Mary's College here, and obtained credentials for secondary school teaching, administration and pupil personnel services. Mahony, who switched his sponsorship from the L.A. Archdiocese to the Diocese of Fresno before being ordained upon graduating from St. John's, was clearly the fast-track champion. Although the reason for the switch allegedly was so that Mahony could realize his quest to serve migrant farm workers, others took a more jaundiced view. "It was an open secret that he saw going to Fresno as a faster way to advance his career," insists a veteran priest in the L.A. Archdiocese who has known Mahony for years. "It would have taken him forever to climb the ladder in an archdiocese the size of L.A., whereas in Fresno he quickly became a big fish in a small pond." After returning from Washington, he rapidly worked his way up through the ranks of the small diocese, becoming a favorite of Timothy Manning, then bishop of Fresno (well before his ascension to head the L.A. Archdiocese and his elevation to cardinal). By 1980, at age 43, Mahony was inducted as bishop of Stockton.
Ziemann (who, like Mahony, is fluent in Spanish) served a Huntington Park parish after leaving Mount St. Mary's. He then taught at Mater Dei High School in Orange County (along with his friend, fellow St. John's alum and accused sexual predator Monsignor Michael Harris) before he was asked to teach at the now-closed Our Lady Queen of Angels Seminary. Through the years, St. John's was a touchstone for the men. "Mahony and Ziemann couldn't stay away from the place," recalls an ex-seminarian. "They would always show up to visit and to attend parties. They knew they were going places, and they loved the recognition. With Mahony especially, his hanging around St. John's was his way of saying, "Look at me. You had better take notice.'"
Just as Manning had been Mahony's career benefactor, Mahony became Ziemann's. After succeeding Manning as archbishop of L.A. in 1985, Mahony appointed Ziemann vice rector and dean of students at Our Lady Queen of Angels. In 1987 Mahony named him auxiliary bishop. When the bishop's position became vacant at Santa Rosa in 1992, Mahony was instrumental in persuading the Vatican to appoint Zieman to the post. The Diocese of Santa Rosa, while serving only 140,000 Roman Catholics, is geographically huge, its boundaries encompassing most of California north of San Francisco. Ziemann's tenure at Santa Rosa proved to be hugely embarrassing. Under his guidance, the diocese racked up debts of more than $30 million through disastrous stock market investments and secret payouts to victims of priestly sex abuse.
But it was a sex scandal of his own that did Ziemann in. Shortly after taking over at Santa Rosa, Ziemann brought in a young priest from Costa Rica named Jorge Hume Salas who, despite his inexperience, was quickly promoted to pastor. Salas' penchant for trouble may have been exceeded only by Ziemann's willingness to cover for him. Sources say the bishop hushed up allegations in Ukiah in 1996 that Salas had stolen money from the church. And Ziemann also helped keep quiet accusations by four men who claimed that Salas had sexually accosted them in his room at the Ukiah rectory. A fifth man, from the town of Napa, also alleged that Salas molested him. (No charges were filed. In four of the cases, statutes of limitation had expired, and authorities deemed a fifth accuser not to be credible.) But the bishop's protection of Salas apparently came with a price. The priest claimed that Zieman extorted him for sex while ostensibly helping him out of his difficulties.
According to police records, Salas complained that the bishop forced him to wear a beeper and beckoned him for sex at all hours. He said Ziemann routinely demanded sex once or twice a week over a two-year period, and that the encounters occurred at the bishop's residence, at hotels and even in Ziemann's diocesan office. It was the kind of smarmy tale that few people wanted to believe about the popular bishop. When Ziemann eventually found Salas to be more of a liability than he was worth, he sought to get rid of him. First, he tried to persuade him to return to his native country. He then offered to send him away -- at church expense -- to receive a university education in the United States. Angered at being cut loose, Salas turned to authorities. But there was little enthusiasm by either Santa Rosa police or the local district attorney to go after a sitting Roman Catholic bishop accused of extorting one of his clerics for sex, especially when the accuser was already under suspicion of criminal activity.
But Salas dropped a bombshell. In July of 1999, he filed a lawsuit against Ziemann accusing the bishop of sexual assaults. The same day, Ziemann announced his resignation, even as he vehemently denied the accusations. In a pattern that has become all too familiar with clerics who are accused of sexual misconduct and superiors who cover for them, the bishop's spin doctors immediately went into overdrive. Ziemann's press spokesman portrayed the resignation as an act of selflessness, insisting that while Ziemann was innocent, he was stepping down "for the good of the diocese." Ziemann's personal lawyer, Joe Piasta, told the press that the bishop had "refused to buy his reputation and peace of mind from [Salas] at the price of millions [of dollars] from the people of this diocese." He called Ziemann a "very holy man" and described him as "shattered" by the accusations. Archbishop Levada of San Francisco, a longtime Ziemann friend and another of Mahony's chums from St. John's, issued a statement that sounded more like a testimonial than a farewell to a disgraced spiritual leader. Levada said he joined "friends throughout California and beyond in thanking [Ziemann] for the energy and gifts he has shared far and wide. Our prayers and good wishes go with him."
But in circling the wagons to defend one of their own, church public relations agents underestimated Salas. On the advice of his attorney, the priest had resorted to wearing a hidden microphone, and in 1998 captured several lurid conversations with Ziemann involving sex. In one of them, a transcript of which was obtained by New Times, Ziemann repeatedly apologizes for forcing the priest to have sex with him, while attempting to persuade him to accept a transfer to avoid a possible criminal investigation. "If the police were not involved, I would not worry," Ziemann says. "But I'm afraid the police are looking at you, OK? All they need is another complaint and they'll move." After one of Ziemann's apologies, Salas, speaking in broken English, reminds the bishop that he has heard it all before. "All the time [you say], "This the last time, the last time, the last time.' Never it came the last time. All the time I came with you to have sex and sex and sex and sex. It's not good for me, not good for me." Ziemann: "It's me who's trying to protect you. And Jorge, you know...when we were intimate physically, you know the times when we were intimate physically?" Salas: "Yeah, all the times when I had to sleep with you." Ziemann: "I know, it's been my fault. And I'm sorry for that. Because I don't think you wanted to do that."
Salas then tells Ziemann that the bishop has given him two venereal infections.
Ziemann: "Two what?"
Salas: "Venereal infection."
Salas: "No, no, venereal... infection into my organs."
Ziemann: "Oh, really?"
Salas: "Oh really; yeah, two."
Ziemann: "From me?"
Ziemann: "I didn't know that. I'm sorry to hear that."
Ziemann's farewell "gift" to parishioners of the Diocese of Santa Rosa essentially was to stick them with a $535,000 tab -- what sources say it cost the diocese to settle Salas' lawsuit. (Ziemann's lawyers attached the customary confidentiality agreement to the settlement.) But perhaps as amazing as the scandal itself is the way church leaders have dealt with such an influential crony of Mahony's since the Santa Rosa affair. Coincidentally or not, those most involved in the gingerly handling of Zieman are closely allied to Mahony, who (as the DiMaria settlement shows) has had the most to lose from his association with his former favorite.
Ziemann, who declined numerous interview requests for this article, may have resigned his post at Santa Rosa, but he remains a Roman Catholic bishop. Since early last year, he has resided at Holy Trinity Monastery, a bucolic Benedictine retreat in the Arizona desert about 60 miles southeast of Tucson. The retreat, which is open to the public, and which rents small cabins to tourists and others, is a popular destination for Catholics seeking meditation and spiritual renewal. It is also a frequent stopover for young men contemplating a career in the priesthood. In a rare off-camera interview with a San Francisco television reporter at the monastery last month, Ziemann said, "I prefer that people not know where I'm at. It would be better in a sense if I could be here and get my life together...I have to think of my own well-being." When a cameraman approached Ziemann on his way to conduct noon mass, as the bishop often did, at the monastery's quaint adobe-style chapel, a bizarre scene unfolded. Abruptly leaving those assembled for the service in the lurch, Ziemann darted to a nearby car, and, with a colleague as his driver, sped away, leading the news people on a circular chase through the desert for more than 70 miles before holing up inside a garage at a home near the retreat.
Ostensibly, Ziemann is at the monastery doing "penance" and undergoing "spiritual rehabilitation," says Fred Allison, a spokesman for the Tucson diocese, in whose jurisdiction the retreat is located. Tucson's bishop, Moreno, had to explicitly approve the arrangement before his fellow bishop and St. John's alum could perform any priestly duties within the diocese. In fact, Zieman is prohibited from performing priestly duties, including conducting mass, anywhere else but at the monastery, Allison says. But neither Allison nor anyone else associated with the church contacted about Ziemann was eager to talk about the bishop's current status, what if any additional restrictions may have been imposed on him, or, for that matter, who is supervising him. When New Times first inquired about Ziemann in April, Allison said that a special committee chaired by Archbishop Levada was supervising his spiritual recovery, and that Ziemann -- who underwent four months of psychosexual treatment after resigning at Santa Rosa -- meets once a month with the committee in addition to regular sessions with a therapist. But in recent days, following numerous unsuccessful attempts to interview Levada for this article, Allison said he had misspoken earlier about Levada's involvement. Indeed, Maurice Healy, a spokesman for the San Francisco archbishop, insists that Levada "has had nothing to do" with what he characterized as the "working group" involved with Ziemann. Healy declined to provide the names of any of the group's members.
Church officials' reluctance to discuss one of American Catholicism's most notorious bad boys is understandable, considering his close ties to Roger Mahony. Take Levada, for example. Sources say that before former San Francisco archbishop John Quinn resigned prematurely in 1995, he submitted the names of 10 bishops to the Vatican as possible successors and that Levada (St. John's class of '61), then bishop of Portland, Oregon, wasn't among them. Rather, within church circles Mahony is widely credited with having exerted his influence with the Vatican to win the coveted San Francisco appointment for Levada, his longtime friend and former St. John's classmate.
After Ziemann flamed out in 1999, Levada, as head of the "metropolitan see" of San Francisco, inherited the clean-up operation in the subordinate Diocese of Santa Rosa. Levada personally managed the diocese's affairs until an interim replacement was named. Whether Levada (or, as many believe, Mahony) took the lead to ensure that their buddy, Ziemann, was stashed safely away in Arizona, they didn't have to worry about resistance from Tucson's bishop. Manuel Moreno, a native of Placentia near Fullerton and a member of the St. John's theology school class of '63, is a long-standing friend and former classmate of both high church officials. Plus, as his record with Trupia and the others attests, Moreno is no shrinking violet when it comes to providing refuge for predator priests.
Pressed for answers about Ziemann in light of the San Francisco archdiocese's disavowal of Levada's involvement, Allison, the Tucson diocese spokesman, enlisted the help of Father Van Wagner, the Tucson vicar general and a self-acknowledged member of the Ziemann "working group." (Wagner is also a former St. John's classmate of Moreno's and Mahony's.) Wagner confirmed that he and four other members of the group, which includes one bishop, meet with Zieman once a month to evaluate his "progress." Like Healy, he declined to identify the group's other members.
However, Francis Quinn, the 80-year-old retired bishop of Sacramento, who ministers to Native Americans in the Arizona desert, tells New Times that he is among the group working with Ziemann, and that he serves as Zieman's spiritual advisor. He describes Ziemann as contrite and "sincerely committed to spiritual restoration. He spends a great deal of time in prayer and meditation." Similarly, Wagner, the vicar general, says there have been no problems with Ziemann's abiding by the terms of his stay at the monestary. However, when asked about reports that Ziemann had worked off and on for more than a year as a substitute priest in a parish near the monastery, in an apparent violation of the rules of his stay there, Wagner acknowledged that it is true. But he added, "That's no longer an issue. We took care of that months ago." Church sources say that besides conducting mass and performing other priestly duties in the town of Sierra Vista, Zieman had also presided over religious retreats involving young prospective seminarians there and at the monastery in violation of his restrictions.
And despite the vigorous denials by Healy and another San Francisco archdiocese representative that Levada has played a role in his friend Zieman's supervision, both Wagner and Quinn revealed the opposite. Indeed, the two church leaders say Levada -- along with no lesser personage than the papal nuncio, the Vatican's ambassador to the United States -- is directly involved in supervising the activities of the group charged with helping to restore Ziemann to spiritual health.
Levada consults with one or another member of the group after each session with Ziemann and has met personally with Ziemann and the group at least twice. Asked if Ziemann is welcome to attend the meeting of American bishops that was to begin in Dallas on June 13, Quinn says he supposes "that he [is], but I doubt very seriously that he would attend given his circumstances." Meanwhile, when asked if he foresees a time when Ziemann's role as a bishop may be normalized, Wagner, the vicar general, concludes, "We never like to say never."