Sexually Abused in Santa Rosa? Time’s Running Out

by | Aug 22, 2023 | Catholic Church

Diocese of Santa Rosa Sexual Abuse Horowitz Law

The Diocese of Santa Rosa has roughly 167,000 Catholics who support 42 parishes, 15 schools, and 54 priests. Its bishops have included Leo Maher, Mark Hurley, John Steinbock, George Ziemann, Daniel F. Walsh, and Robert F. Vasa. If you were sexually abused as a child by any clergy (priest, nun, bishop, monk, seminarian, brother, or lay employee) within the Diocese of Santa Rosa, including Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties, your time to act is running out. 

Why? Because the diocese declared bankruptcy, or more formally, it has sought federal Chapter 11 protection. Without getting too complicated, this does NOT mean the diocese is broke. It does, however, mean that if you or someone you know was sexually violated in any way at any time by any person in the diocese, you have until October 2023 to file a claim and perhaps get some compensation.

“Filing a claim” does NOT mean filing a lawsuit. Lawsuits can be long and harrowing. But taking advantage of the bankruptcy proceeding is substantially easier. You will face much less extensive questioning if you have filed suit. And you’ll likely get a resolution more quickly. Call us to learn what your options are.

Now, a few words about the Santa Rosa Diocese itself.

We at Horowitz Law have looked closely at dozens and dozens of official Catholic websites – dioceses and religious orders – and how they depict the church’s ongoing abuse and cover-up crisis. Often there are two or three, or four sentences, usually tucked away at the bottom or towards the end of the section on ‘safe environment’ (or whatever euphemism that particular bishop uses to allude to abuse) that jump out as indicative of that prelate’s mindset. Here are the three sentences that reveal a lot about Santa Rosa’s bishop:

“Two names which have received much notoriety are not (on their ‘abusers’ list). Bishop Ziemann and Archbishop Nienstedt” writes Vasa. “While there is much publicity, the Archbishop’s situation is still under review by the Holy See. The naming of Bishops accused is exclusively under the authority of the Holy See, and I am not authorized to make any revelations regarding them.” Let’s parse this out a bit.

This brief passage is the only mention of Bishop Ziemann on the Santa Rosa Diocesan website. That’s odd because he was head of the diocese for seven years. He resigned as bishop in 1999 after a priest sued him, charging that they had had a sexual relationship. Three years later, he was sued for alleged child sexual abuse. In 2003, he was named in a civil lawsuit alleging a conspiracy by 28 priests to cover up abuse in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. And in a Los Angeles archdiocesan report noted that three others had accused him of abuse.

US bishops have admitted on their diocesan websites that their predecessor or predecessors were abusers. But Bishop Vasa refuses to do that with Ziemann. And he refuses to say even a word about Ziemann’s wrongdoing. To us, that speaks volumes. If you somehow think that he and his Santa Rosa colleagues have ‘reformed’ and now handle child sex crimes and cover-ups ‘better’ than in the past, please think again. You can’t ‘fix’ a problem if you can’t bring yourself to even talk about it reasonably. Those three sentences Vasa wrote also contained the word ‘Nienstedt.’ He is another church official associated with the Santa Rosa Diocese, and here’s what Vasa refuses to admit about him.

In 2013, Archbishop Nienstedt was accused of touching a boy’s buttocks. A prosecutor found “insufficient evidence” to take action against him. In 2014, an internal investigation reportedly found that he’d made “sexual advances” toward two priests. But Nienstedt kept the findings secret. In 2015, he resigned soon after his archdiocese was criminally charged for contributing to child sex abuse. In 2016, documents were released showing allegations of Nienstedt’s “promiscuous gay lifestyle.” Later that year, he began working at the Napa Institute in Santa Rosa.

In 2018, he faced accusations that he invited two boys to a hotel room to change out of wet clothes years before at a Vatican youth rally in Germany. None of this you’ll find on Bishop Vasa’s website. Again, if Vasa refuses to tell us anything about the diocese’s previous bishops, we wonder what’s he not telling us about his proven, admitted, and credibly accused child molesting clerics?” Now, more about the diocese itself:

Its earlier parishes were in Petaluma, Eureka, Napa, Bodega, Mendocino, St. Helena, Loleta, Crescent City, Kelseyville, and Lakeport. Its territory hugs the coast all the way up to the Oregon border. Its current parishes are in these towns (and others): Sonoma, Healdsburg, Ukiah, Petaluma, Napa, Eureka, Ferndale, Petrolia, Fort Bragg, Fortuna, Loleta, Garberville, Ferndale, Guerneville, Monte Rio, Cazadero, Cazadero Hwy, Cazadero, Healdsburg, Lakeport, Kelseyville, McKinleyville, Trinidad, Mendocino, Elk, Middletown, Cobb, Napa, Occidental, Bodega, Point Arena, Gualala, Rohnert Park, St. Helena, Sebastopol, Sonoma, Boyes Hot Springs, Ukiah, Philo, Ukiah, Hopland, Willits, Covelo, Windsor, Rutherford, and Yountville.

Its credibly accused abusers, according to the diocese itself: Joseph Alzugaray, Carmelo Baltazar, Edward F. Beutner, Anthony Bolger, David Brusky, John Crews, Kevin Dunne, Don Eagleson, Don D. Flickinger, J. Patrick Foley, Francis (John) Ford, Ruben Garcia, Patrick Gleeson, Patrick A. Hannon, Austin Peter Keegan, Michael Emmet Kelly, Don Kimball, Bruce Maxwell, Patrick McCabe, John A. Meenan, John Moriarty, Francis E. Neville, Mark O’Leary Vincent O’Neill, Francisco Javier Ochoa, Ted Oswald, Xavier Pallathuparambil, Thomas Parker, Daniel Polizzi, Celestine Quinlan, Anthony J. Ross, Alfredo Sobalvarro, Gary Timmons, Francis Verngren, James Walsh, Bernie Ward, Ron Wiecek and Vincent A. Yzermans. Two other names – Jose Luis Contrares and Jerome Stack -were added later. Its OTHER publicly accused abusers, according to, include John J. Brenkle, James F. Corley, John K. Rogers, and Wilfred L. Sheehy.

If you believe that the full story about abuse and cover-up in Santa Rosa should be revealed, please spread the word about the October deadline. Join us in urging everyone who may have seen, suspected, or suffered clergy sex crimes in northern California to come forward as quickly as possible and help bring the truth to light and bring victims to closure.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy.  If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a member of a religious organization, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.