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Katy Grimes

Conspiracy of Silence in Sacramento Catholic Diocese

The conspiracy of silence in the Catholic Church over scandals involving sex, homosexuality, cover-ups, payouts, betrayal, and corruption have left many Catholics disillusioned and even angry.


The coat of arms of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.

Corruption wears many disguises, including liturgical garments.

There is a cancer in the Catholic Church that needs to be eradicated. The cancer is not Catholicism, rather it is about the dangerous, corrupt behavior in too many of the Bishops. The traditional role of a bishop is as head of a diocese – the buck stops with the Bishop.

The recent exposure of the sexual abuse and predatory lifestyle of Cardinal Ted McCarrick of Washington D.C. was overdue. The Harvey Weinstein-like situation where “everyone knew” of “Uncle Ted’s” decades of predatory behavior “that involve unwanted touching of minors and seminarians, strange costumes, familial nicknames, and the Cardinal demanding that young men share his bed. Stories that involve “gay sex parties at the bishop’s residence”, and other things we’d rather not contemplate,” OnePeterFive reported.

According to many Catholics, McCarrick was just the tip-of-the-iceberg. “Even as the moral corruption of McCarrick becomes undeniable, the question of the networks that supported and covered his actions have taken on a pressing urgency,”OnePeterFive reported. “Those responsible for keeping silence are men who continue to serve in the Church.”

McCarrick’s case has only piled on to the decline and denial of the Catholic Church, and the gross selfishness by bishops and cardinals bent on protecting themselves at the expense of the sexual abuse victims, as well as parishioners throughout the world.

Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto is one such cover-up agent, according to many area Catholics – not just many Catholics, but every Catholic in the Sacramento area I’ve spoken to says this. The Sacramento Diocese stretches from the Oregon border to Vacaville. In 2009, there was a massive retirement of area priests only one year after Jaime Soto was named bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento.


Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Sacramento

Declining attendance in many of Sacramento’s Catholic Churches is but one symptom. The morale of Sacramento’s priests is as low as it gets, I am told. Many are retiring early – nine last year – and there were zero young priests ordained to fill their shoes.

“If you don’t have any other options, then the people in authority over you have quite a bit of coercive power,” a priest wrote to Rod Dreher atThe American Conservative. “The bishop has financial power over you, spiritual power, power of assignment, power to suspend, power to send for psychological assessment, etc.”

The priest continued: “Now ideally, if a bishop is righteous, this would all work out for the good of the priest. But what if he isn’t? Or what if the priests in his curia who are advising him are corrupt? If you are a priest in such a diocese what are you to do?”

Indeed. What if the bishop is corrupt? What if he is abusing his all-powerful authority over everything and everyone in his diocese? What if he is covering up crimes by corrupt priests?

Strife and Betrayal in Sacramento Diocese

Recently I met with Dave Leatherby – yes, that Dave Leatherby, who together with his wife Sally and large family owns and operates Leatherby’s Family Creamery. Dave is a devout Catholic, and we met to discuss Sacramento’s Diocese, Bishop Jaime Soto, and what Leatherby describes as a serious morale problem within the diocese.

“People are stopping going to church,” Leatherby said. But it’s not because they are losing interest in Catholicism, he explained. “It’s leadership; there are lots of unhappy Catholics.”

Leatherby’s grandson, Fr. Jeremy Leatherby, is a priest, and was the parish priest of Presentation of The Blessed Virgin Mary Parish. But he is on the “outs” with Bishop Soto.

Leatherby explained: A few years ago a long-time housekeeper at St. Philomene’s walked in on the parish priest having sex with another priest. She was threatened and told to be silent. But instead, she told Dave Leatherby, Jr – Dave’s oldest son – a Deacon in the Church. Leatherby, Jr. took this information to a trusted Vicar in the diocese. But the reaction wasn’t what it should have been. “He exploded,” Leatherby said. The next thing they knew, Leatherby Jr.’s son, Fr. Jeremy was given two hours to vacate the rectory where he lived, and was placed on “suspension” on a charge of having sex with a female parishioner. Leatherby Sr. said the woman has recanted her story, but Fr. Jeremy is still on suspension, having been in limbo for two-and-one-half-years without a hearing. “Bishop Soto will not respond to Fr. Jeremy’s canonical lawyer, and won’t allow a hearing. Yet the bad priests are still in their parishes.”

“Bishop Soto wants him laicized (defrocked),” Leatherby Sr. said. “And this speaks to the treatment priests have gotten in this diocese when they speak up about this issue. Bishop Soto is covering up and protecting bad priests, abusing the good priests, and this causes unhappy parishioners.”

“If you’re not on the ‘in’ of the sex ring, they will allow you to be destroyed,” Leatherby Sr. explained. “If you don’t agree with the political agenda, they push you out.”

“At the Bishop level, it’s a swamp,” Leatherby Sr. said. “The sex problem has made it newsworthy, but it’s the power-mad Bishops who are terrifying priests. They’ve forgotten that they are still priests.”

“This needs to be investigated and exposed,” Leatherby, Sr. added. “They (Diocese) beat the crap out of Father Dan Madigan, founder of the Sacramento Food Bank.” He named several other local priests who were targeted by Bishop Soto:

“Father Kiernan was accused of mishandling money. Father John Hansen, a 47-year priest was ousted on a 50-year old accusation in Ireland (the accuser is dead). Soto pulled him from the priesthood. Father Bill Frazier was accused falsely of sex allegations. It was proven not true, but Soto never did anything to clear his name before he died.”

He took me back to the time when he and several others started Catholic Radio in Sacramento. Priests all over Sacramento were against it – because it was conservative – more conservative than many priests were comfortable with.

Sacramento Diocese: Conspiracy of Silence?

I spoke with Kevin Eckery of the Sacramento Diocese, and asked him about Fr. Jeremy Leatherby’s legal case and status. Eckery said they generally don’t talk about existing cases. “He’s been represented by canonical council the entire time. We are respecting his privacy,” Eckery said.

I asked him about the corruption in the priesthood, centered on homosexuality, and said I’d been told upwards of 75 percent of priests and seminarians are homosexual.  “That’s not what we see,” Eckery said. “Celibacy is celibacy.”

Eckery said the priesthood “is a reflection of the general population” in terms of homosexuality. “We ask ‘how do you help support these men with an avocation in the Church?”

This has been the standard line of the Sacramento Diocese for a long time. In a 2010 interview in Sacramento News and Review, when asked by publisher Jeff vonKaenel about a story on gay priests and gays in the seminary, quoting Catholic scholars saying that somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of people in the seminary are gay, Soto replied, “I don’t think that that is true. I guess I haven’t looked at the research that closely, but I would doubt that from my own experience. It would probably reflect the numbers in the general population, whatever that is.”

“That would put you in the minority for people commenting on this issue,” vonKaenel said. “Well, I haven’t looked at the research—that’s my own sense about it; I don’t think that it’s more than the general population,” Soto said again.

As for the pedophilia scandal which the church has endured since 2002, Leatherby Sr. said is really is a scandal of homosexuality. The vast majority of cases are not with children but with young men past the age of puberty. Very few of the allegations against the church are pedophilia or with women.

I asked Eckery about local cases, settlements and payouts. “Like a lot of other dioceses, the bulk of the settlements were 12 to 13 years ago,” he said. “There were five, and we paid out just under $40 million. The master settlement case of 2005, settled all of the claims brought forward until then. Twelve dioceses in California settled in 2005, 2006 and 2007.”

“In terms of sex abuse cases, the vast majority were settled in 2005,” Eckery said. “I know the statute of limitations has run, but there have been cases settled outside of court cases, because it’s the right thing to do.”

“There have been other lawsuits and issues,” Eckery said. “Like real estate cases, or employment cases. The Diocese runs a lot of secular business.”

Next — Part ll: “Queering the Catholic Church:” A Sinful Network of Bishops

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