Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011 was a day that started like any other for Rev. Timothy Nondorf, who worked for the Sacramento Catholic Diocese as a priest and vice chancellor. However, by the end of the day, the Diocese would be in turmoil and one of their own would be in hot water for molesting a young girl. Father Uriel Ojeda, a well respected superstar among the local priesthood, considered to be one of the “magnificent seven”, the most outstanding and promising up-and-coming priests on the local scene.
It began with a phone call from a girl’s father, accusing Ojeda of sexual abuse. To their credit, Nondorf and his boss, Bishop Jaime Soto, immediately began a serious investigation, unlike so many in the Catholic Church who are quick to sweep it under the rug and pretend there are no problems. It turns out that the accusation against Ojeda was in relation to the man’s daughter who was 13 at the time of the incident. Ojeda had since been transferred out of the local parish to Our Lady of Mercy Church in Redding. After speaking to the local police and Child Protective Services, it was concluded that the charges were sufficient to require them to relieve Ojeda of his ministry. The task fell to Nondorf and former FBI agent turned special investigator Joseph Sheehan to confront Ojeda about the allegations.
After discussing, in general terms, the accusation, Ojeda admitted that yes, those things did happen. His lawyer would later try to get that admission thrown out of court, claiming it was a confession before another priest and therefore not admissible in court, but that claim was rejected by the judge. They brought Ojeda back to Sacramento where he turned himself in to authorities and was booked on charges of lewd acts with a child. Yet there were many, especially in the Hispanic community where Ojeda was very popular, who refused to believe that he could be guilty of these allegations, instead believing that the girl had invented the charges out of jealousy. It took quite some time for Ojeda to face justice, but on August 2 of this year, in a plea deal, he was sentenced to 8 years in prison.
The Diocese has begun the process of getting Ojeda permanently removed as a priest, they have to petition the Vatican for permission, which seems a little silly to me, but probably comes as no surprise. Some of his last words in court were, “I’d like to, as a final act as priest, to apologize to all priests who serve faithfully before God, for bringing shame to the priesthood.” No, he brought shame on humanity for his heinous actions.
While far too often, we see Catholic priests acting irresponsibly to cover for their fellow priests, to hide the crimes and transfer the criminals, to withhold evidence from the police and hinder investigations however they can, this is a different case. This is a case where those in charge acted swiftly and certainly to make sure society was protected from a rogue priest and for that, Rev. Timothy Nondorf and Bishop Jaime Soto deserve not only our recognition, but our thanks for doing the right thing. Far too often, we forget to be grateful to those who deserve our appreciation, but in this case, they certainly do. It’s not often that Horror Show Sunday recognizes priests with character, honesty and dedication, but I’m glad that occasionally, we can.