Sacramento Superior Court Judge Eugene L. Balonon today rejected a motion by the Rev. Uriel Ojeda that the priest's alleged admissions to church officials of child molestation were confidential and could not be used against him in his upcoming trial.
"The statements are not protected under the clergy-penitent privilege," Balonon said in his ruling from the bench.
Ojeda, 33, allegedly made the incriminating statements to a priest who worked on Bishop Jaime Soto's staff and to a private investigator who represents the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.
Balonon said the statements were not confidential under any reading of the Evidence Code statute covering the clergy-penitent privilege, and that the church officials had a duty under California law as "mandated reporters" to turn over to law enforcement the information regarding a possible instance of child sexual abuse.
Ojeda is facing seven felony counts of child molestation involving one alleged victim, a girl who was under 14 years of age during his contact with her when he worked at parishes in Woodland and Redding.
In his testimony on Monday, Ojeda said he thought the communications to the Rev. Timothy Nondorf, who was acting as the bishop's representative, and to Joseph Sheehan, a private investigator with the law firm of Sweeney & Greene, would be kept in confidence.
"I don't find that is a credible assertion," Balonon said, given that Ojeda also testified that he knew Nondorf and Sheehan had a duty to report evidence of child molestation to police. "He could not have thought his statement would be held in confidence," the judge said.
Nondorf and Sheehan testified they visited Ojeda on Nov. 30, 2011, to tell him that a parishioner had accused him of child molestation and that he was being removed from his ministry and being transported to Sacramento to face criminal charges. They related his statements to them in their own interviews with Sacramento police detectives.
Jury selection in Ojeda's trial is scheduled to begin July 16.
Photo caption: Rev. Uriel Ojeda in court Wednesday morning. Photo by Hector Amezcua / firstname.lastname@example.org