Catholic Confessional Confidential

Church correspondence reveals alleged molestation by visiting bishop

Over the years, the pederast priests of the Diocese of Orange chose a variety of places for their kiddie-fiddling. In 1986, for instance, convicted cleric Andrew Christian Anderson masturbated a 13-year-old altar boy twice at a South Coast Plaza-area theater: the first time while watching the Michael Douglas/Kathleen Turner vehicle The Jewel of the Nile and the second at Rambo: First Blood, Part II. Father Gerardo Tanilong, meanwhile, received a six-month prison sentence earlier this year for groping a 15-year-old girl while both rode in a car with her family. And Michael Harris, former principal of Mater Dei and Santa Margarita Catholic high schools, allegedly fellated victims in rectories, his personal residence, even Mater Dei offices during the 1980s.

But in the diocese's 28-year history, there is no known record of a priest molesting a child in that most intimate of Catholic sanctuaries: the confessional booth.

Bishops, though, are another matter.

Internal church correspondence obtained by the Weekly reveals that during the late 1990s, the Orange see bullied into silence a mother who claimed that a visiting bishop molested her son during confession at St. Kilian in Mission Viejo. The bishop in question is G. Patrick Ziemann, who in 1999 resigned as head of the Santa Rosa diocese after settling a lawsuit alleging that His Eminence kept a Costa Rican priest as his personal boy toy. Ziemann, who taught religion at Mater Dei from 1971 to 1974, currently faces three other lawsuits alleging child molestation while he served in the Los Angeles and Orange dioceses from 1967 until 1992.

Although Ziemann left Southern California for Santa Rosa in 1992, he frequently visited Orange County throughout the decade at the behest of Harris, whom Ziemann counseled as a spiritual adviser at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo during the late 1960s. It was during one of these Orange County visits—a Nov. 6, 1994, St. Kilian confirmation class at which Ziemann served as the retreat master—where the alleged confessional genital grabbing occurred.

Ziemann nowadays resides at a monastery in Arizona, granted sanctuary after his resignation by disgraced ex-Tucson bishop and Placentia resident Manuel D. Moreno, and was unavailable for comment. Efforts to reach the alleged victim and his mother were unsuccessful. But a series of letters written to various church officials recounts how a mother's search for justice was greeted with the furious stonewalling for which the Orange diocese is infamous.

The first letter is undated but calls the "scandalous behavior" and "lascivious physical contact" that Ziemann allegedly committed while at St. Kilian "outrageous."

"Being dissatisfied with our initial response from our local church officials," the alleged victim's mother wrote to Ziemann, "we have obtained counseling to guide us through the proper steps to pursue a just and fair solution to this malady of yours."

Ziemann did not respond to the letter, but then-Orange Bishop Norman McFarland did.

"This is as serious an indictment as could be made against [Bishop Ziemann] and, if not true, is open to a libel suit," McFarland threatened in a Jan. 27, 1995, letter. "I cannot conceive it as being possibly true, either as to the action alleged . . . or as to its circumstances."

Five days later, the Santa Rosa diocesan lawyer wrote to the mother: "My advice to Bishop Ziemann is that your recent letter does not seem to ask for any response from him to you."

The mother summarily shut up for a couple of years until Aug. 2, 1999, when she wrote to St. Kilian pastor James Dunning after reading about Ziemann's resignation.

"We bring [her son's alleged molestation] to your attention because we strongly believe that steps could and should have been taken five years ago to address the serious concerns we raised about Bishop Ziemman's misconduct at that time," the mother wrote. "Instead, you told us and our son that you thought he was probably 'hallucinating.' . . . Because our legitimate grievance was belittled and even treated with hostility, others have apparently needlessly suffered."

Dunning did not respond. But McFarland—who was retired by then—did.

"The passage of time does affect one's memory, so permit me to refresh your memory with the facts in this matter," he countered three weeks later. "It was you who refused to help me pursue the allegation, without even a reply to my request for necessary information."

A source told the Weekly that the mother and son are considering legal action against Ziemann and the Orange diocese. If the suit were filed, it wouldn't be the first time the county's Catholic hierarchy dealt with a Ziemann-created problem. During the early 1990s, Ziemann gave priestly faculties in Santa Rosa to Stephen Frost, who is best known in Orange diocesan history as the painter of the "Boner Jesus" mural at St. Joseph's in Santa Ana [see "The Bawdy of Christ," Dec. 5, 2003]. When Ziemann called McFarland to ask if Frost—who at the time was suspended from the Orange diocese—could officiate over Mass in Santa Rosa, an angry McFarland demanded that Ziemann ship Frost back to Orange County. Frost left the priesthood soon after.

But the most grievous Ziemann injury to the Orange diocese occurred in 2001, when lawyers deposed him as part of a lawsuit against Harris by former Santa Margarita student Ryan DiMaria. During pretrial hearings, a seminarian revealed that in 1979 he complained to Ziemann—then at Our Lady Queen of Angels Seminary in Mission Hills—that Harris was molesting students at Mater Dei. Ziemann denied that such an exchange took place, but in a separate deposition for the trial, McFarland admitted knowing about the incident. When DiMaria's lawyer, Costa Mesa-based John Manly, asked McFarland why he never pressed Ziemann on the matter, McFarland replied, "I simply don't recall calling him about that, and I don't know why I did not or should have or whatever."

For once, McFarland declined to spin for Ziemann, a non-decision that cost the diocese $5.2 million in the DiMaria case.

garellano@ocweekly.com

 
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