The Rev. Uriel Ojeda testified today that his statements to a top-ranking Sacramento diocese official and a private investigator in which he allegedly admitted to molesting a parish girl was not a confession in the sacramental sense, but he said he still thought he had an expectation of confidentiality when he made them.
Asked by his attorney, Jesse Ortiz, if he believed his statements could be used against him in a criminal case, Ojeda responded, "It never crossed my mind."
He testified he felt compelled under his "duty of obedience" to answer the questions from Bishop Jaime Soto's former secretary, the Rev. Timothy Nondorf, and Joseph Sheehan, the private investigator for the law firm that represents the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento. Nondorf and Sheehan visited Ojeda at his parish in Redding in late November 2011 and told him he was being stripped of his ministerial faculties and that they were bringing him back to Sacramento to face charges.
"In my understanding, I am bound to answer whatever they inquire about," Ojeda testified, adding later, "I understand the conversation to be confidential."
Although he claimed confidentiality, Ojeda said he knew that as a priest, Nondorf was a "mandated reporter" who, if he became aware of any admissions of child molestation, was required by law to pass them on to a police agency.
Ojeda, 33, testified in a Sacramento Superior Court hearing to determine if his statements to Nondorf and Sheehan can be used against him in his upcoming child molestation trial. Ojeda is accused in a seven-count complaint of molesting the girl, who was under 14 years of age, first while he worked at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Woodland and later at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Redding.
Judge Eugene L. Balonon is expected to rule this week on whether the statements can be admitted at Ojeda's trial. Jury selection is scheduled to begin July 16.
Under cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Allison Dunham, Ojeda testified that three weeks before Nondorf and Sheehan visited him in Redding, he had received a text message from the alleged victim's father.
"You have betrayed us," the text message said, according to the DA's reading of it in her questioning of Ojeda. "You have betrayed our friendship and relationship. We found out what you did to our daughter."
Ojeda testified that he read it and understood it but that he did not respond to the father. "I didn't think text messaging back was the appropriate way to respond to it."
Both Nondorf and Sheehan later told Sacramento police investigators what Ojeda told them. The content of their conversation with the priest has not been disclosed in the hearing.
It was under questioning from Dunham that Ojeda said he knew his statements to Nondorf and Sheehan were not a confession in the context of the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation.
"It wasn't a confession," he testified.
The hearing had been set to determine if there was a clergy-penitent privilege, or possibly an attorney-client privilege, that Ojeda could exercise to keep his statements to Nondorf and Sheehan out of the trial.
PHOTO CREDIT: The Rev. Uriel Ojeda waits for an elevator as he leaves his court during a break on his child molestation case on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 in Sacramento. Hector Amezcua, Sacramento Bee.