O.C. Bishop Vows New Openness
Catholic Leader Pledges Era of Greater Voice for Church Members in Wake of Abuse Cases

By Ann Pepper
The Orange County Register
January 16, 2004

GARDEN GROVE – Bishop Tod D. Brown announced Thursday that he will create a "Covenant with the Faithful" with Orange County's 1 million Catholics and urged them to help him restore trust, heal the humiliation and become a more responsive church.

Brown timed his initiative to coincide with the season of Lent, which he dedicated to an expression of remorse for sexual abuse by the clergy.

"I call on all Catholics in our diocese - clergy, religious and lay - to join me in wearing our ashes on Ash Wednesday as a sign that we acknowledge the pain of the victims - and pray for the healing of pain suffered by the victims and their families," Brown said at a news conference at the Crown Plaza Hotel.

He apologized for those guilty of the abuse and for their superiors who failed to stop them. He promised a new era of openness with the media and a greater voice for church members in parish and diocesan governance.

"I know that I can never fully atone for the hurt inflicted by those who are guilty, but as the bishop of Orange, I can do penance and I will - and I can beg for forgiveness and I will continue to do so."

Victims' representatives found little new in the bishop's remarks.

"It's a shame that ... the bishop spent all this time to come forward and tell us nothing," said Joelle Casteix, who alleges she was molested for two years beginning in 1986 by Tom Hodgman, a choirmaster at Mater Dei High School.

Casteix resigned from the sex-abuse investigations council of the diocese because she felt the panel sought only to minimize the church's exposure to lawsuits, an allegation that the diocese denies.

She called for a freer exchange of ideas with victims and the release of the personnel files of abusive clergy.

The bishop's repeated promises of transparent relations with the media rang hollow, she said, and complained that victims groups were barred from the news conference and that Brown took no questions, instead going directly into private interviews with members of the media.

Brown has been candid in the past. In June, he acknowledged his diocese made a mistake when it allowed priests to investigate clerical misconduct in the past, and said he has put private investigators on the job.

His views about what he believes is necessary seem ironclad - a zero-tolerance policy for priests who have erred in the past or do so in the future. And he was a hard-liner among the nearly 300 bishops who formed the church's national policy on sexual abuse in 2002.

A nationwide audit released in 2003 by the Roman Catholic Bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection gave the diocese high marks for complying with church reforms to prevent further sex abuse by clergy.

On Thursday, Brown acknowledged that it would take a long time to win back the respect and confidence of victims and their families.

This week he released the list of 15 local priests accused of abusing 47 children from 1976 to 2002. One additional priest, who died before the allegation was made, was not named at the victim's request.

The list went to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which is compiling a national study on the issue. The nationwide list of priests is expected for release in February.

The loss of trust and the humiliation that the church has suffered over the abuse scandal was a "wakeup call - a call to action," he said.

His new operating principle and the new covenant will empower both laity and priests and help the diocese become more responsive, accountable and receptive to the needs of the faithful and clergy, Brown said.

It establishes new pastoral councils at the parish level and a diocesan council to give church members a greater voice.

Ed Kearns, a member of St. Edwards Catholic Church in Dana Point, said his parish established a pastoral council similar to what Brown is calling for in the mid-1970s.

The council does a "pretty good job" of giving parishioners a chance to express their ideas, Kearns said.

"But a diocesan council, that should be really interesting to see how that works. I think it is time for something like that. At least we would feel like somebody is listening. That's the way it should have been all along."

Brown chose to launch his initiative in time for Ash Wednesday on Feb. 25 when the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross.

It marks the beginning of Lent, a season of soul-searching and repentance in preparation for Easter.

"This is completely on (the bishop's) own initiative; no other dioceses are doing this kind of thing that I know of," said the Rev. Joe Fenton, diocesan spokesman.

"We've been thinking about things to do, and Lent is a perfect time to repent and to seek repentance.

"He is seeking a new beginning”


In an effort to make the Catholic Diocese of Orange “a shining beacon of confidence, honesty and trustworthiness,” Bishop Tod Brown detailed Thursday what he called “The Covenant with the Faithful.”

The seven “theses” include:

• We will continue to do everything possible to help the healing process of the victims of sexual abuse.

• We will implement in every respect the American Catholic Bishops’ National Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and our own diocesan policies for the prevention of the abuse of children and young people.

• We will endeavor to heal the hurt among the clergy, religious and laity, who have been humiliated, scorned and disgraced by the actions of those priests who sexually abused children and young people, and the leaders who covered up these actions.

• We will work collaboratively with all members of the diocese to promote an atmosphere of openness and trust and empower them as partners in parochial affairs and thereby create a new era for our church in Orange County.

• We will be open, honest and forthright in our public statements to the media and consistent and transparent in our communications with the Catholics of our diocese.

• We will restore confidence in our role as bishops.

• We will lead the rededication of the Diocese of Orange as an ambassador of God’s love that cares about the welfare of the entire county, especially the disenfranchised and the poor.

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