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Lawsuit Accuses Bishop of Sex Abuse

Church: A former altar boy alleges molestation when the cleric served in Huntington Park.

July 06, 2002|WILLIAM LOBDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Roman Catholic bishop who was forced to resign as head of one diocese by a sex scandal in 1999 was accused in a suit filed Friday of molesting a Huntington Park altar boy during a sexual relationship that began in 1968 and continued for nearly 20 years.

The suit against G. Patrick Ziemann, 60, who now lives in an Arizona monastery, claims the relationship went on until Ziemann was named auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles in 1987. Ziemann worked under then-Archbishop Roger M. Mahony, overseeing parishes, schools and other church institutions in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. In 1992, the Vatican named him bishop of Santa Rosa.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, also claims that the archdioceses of Los Angeles and San Francisco recommended to Pope John Paul II that Ziemann be appointed bishop of Santa Rosa "in part as a reward for his agreement to engage with them in a conspiracy to conceal sexual abuse" within the church.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said the church hadn't seen the lawsuit and could not comment in depth, but he did say the charge that Ziemann was promoted to bishop because of influence exerted by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony was nonsense.

"That's absolutely not true," Todd Tamberg said. A bishop's appointment is "a secret process [by the Vatican] that not even Cardinal Mahony would know the specifics on."

Tamberg said that during Ziemann's five years as Los Angeles auxiliary bishop, Mahony's interaction with him could be described as a "professional, working relationship."

Neither Ziemann nor his attorney could be reached for comment late Friday. John Manly, a Costa Mesa attorney who represents the 47-year-old plaintiff, said he wouldn't comment on the suit at this time. The lawsuit does not name the accuser, and The Times does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse.

Ziemann stepped down as Santa Rosa bishop after a priest filed a lawsuit alleging sexual battery, forced oral copulation and abuse of authority. Father Jorge Hume Salas claimed the bishop forced him into a two-year sexual relationship in exchange for withholding from police evidence of Salas' admitted theft of church collection money.

Ziemann's lawyers said that the affair was consensual and that Salas filed the suit after seeking a secret $8-million settlement. The Santa Rosa diocese agreed on a $535,000 settlement payment 10 months later.

In the latest suit, the plaintiff alleges the molestation began while he was a sixth-grade altar boy at St. Matthias Church. The plaintiff claims he was abused when he was forced to take a shower with Ziemann after playing basketball.

At 17, the plaintiff alleges, Ziemann began paying him for various sexual acts, and he continued the relationship after being named spiritual director of the now-closed Queen of Angels Seminary in San Fernando Valley in 1985.

Manly, who filed the current suit with attorney Kelly Clark of Portland, Ore., was co-counsel in a record $5.2-million payout by the Los Angeles and Orange dioceses to settle molestation claims against Msgr. Michael Harris. In that suit, the victim alleged that during Ziemann's days as a priest in Los Angeles, he had been told about similar complaints against Harris by another victim, but did nothing. Ziemann had been Harris' spiritual advisor at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo. Since leaving Santa Rosa, Ziemann, who remains a bishop, has lived at the Holy Trinity Monastery and Holy Family Convent in St. David, Ariz.

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