Friday, September 22 , 2017, 7:14 am | Fair 52º


Tim Durnin: The Troubled Seat of the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region’s Auxiliary Bishop

“A sad end to a ministry that will forever be defined by a malignant dedication to the institution over the truth and self-preservation over doing the right thing.”

I grew up as a Catholic in the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region, a region that has been served by only two auxiliary bishops in my adult life. The first was Bishop Patrick Ziemann, who served from 1986 until his departure in 1992. The second and still acting auxiliary bishop for the region is the Rev. Thomas Curry.

Bishop Ziemann was a charismatic church leader and much beloved by his flock. His departure was seen as a significant blow to Santa Barbara and a boon to the Diocese of Santa Rosa, where he was appointed bishop.

In retrospect, it is best that Bishop Ziemann left, taking his tragic flaws with him. It was best for the people of Santa Barbara, not so much so for the people of Santa Rosa, who endured one of the most twisted church scandals in recent memory at Ziemann’s hands.

Ziemann became embroiled in a torrid affair with one of the priests in his new diocese that culminated in him being accused of sexual assault. After his fall, the diocese found itself in debt by tens of millions of dollars due to Ziemann’s mismanagement.

In a final blow, it came to light that Ziemann had ordained a priest without proper training or education, presumably as part of his troubled sexual misconduct. For those of us who knew and came to love him as our bishop, it was a crushing and disturbing blow.

Moving forward 20 years, the faithful of the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region are once again reeling from the fall of their pastoral leader. On Monday, Bishop Curry’s role in the protection of pedophiles and willful disregard for law enforcement became painfully and shockingly apparent.

On Monday, correspondence between then-Archbishop Roger Mahoney and then-Monsignor Thomas Curry became public. The communications are deeply disturbing and are far more indicting than anyone, certainly far more than I, had anticipated. Mahoney’s and Curry’s actions were nothing short of ghastly.

In May 1987, Monsignor Curry acknowledged the felony criminal acts of a fellow clergyman and actively engaged in activities to thwart law enforcement from pursuing a criminal investigation.

In a sickening insight into the deceptive and depraved mind of Monsignor Curry he writes that one pedophile priest could see “an attorney who is also a psychiatrist,” thereby being able to hide behind attorney-client privilege and avoid being reported to law enforcement. As a reward for his service to the church, Curry was elevated to auxiliary bishop for the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region in 1994.

The documents released Monday are related to only four of the cases settled in the Archdiocese sex abuse scandal. Documents related to hundreds more are slated to be released in the coming months. Monday’s documents reveal criminal activity and intent on both Mahoney’s and Curry’s part. The coming deluge just may result in their rightful prosecution.

I suspect that if Bishop Curry has not already done so, his resignation will be forthcoming. Lesser men have been expelled from the church for lesser crimes. Lesser men have gone to prison.

It is a sad end to a ministry that will forever be defined by a malignant dedication to the institution over truth and self-preservation over doing the right thing. As a Catholic in the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region, I hope the next selection of an auxiliary bishop will be driven by more concern for the faithful and less concern for the need to reward those willing to act unconscionably in the name of God.

— Tim Durnin is an independent consultant for nonprofit organizations, schools and small business. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), follow him on Twitter: @tdurnin, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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