O.C. Catholic Bishop Tod D. Brown to Retire
By Doug Irving
Orange County Register
September 20, 2012
|Bishop Tod D. Brown, right, prays during the 2010 burial service for Bishop Norman McFarland at the at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Orange.|
ORANGE – Bishop Tod D. Brown, who has led the Diocese of Orange through explosive growth, historic change and some of the darkest years of its clergy sex-abuse scandal, will announce his retirement on Friday morning.
The diocese declined to comment beyond a brief press advisory that said Brown's successor, the fourth Bishop of Orange, will also be introduced on Friday. Brown turned 75 late last year, the traditional age of retirement for Catholic bishops, and submitted his resignation to the Vatican.
"The bishop, as pastor of a local church, is called the shepherd of his people – to lead them, care for and protect them, and help them grow in their faith in Christ Jesus," Brown said on the sweltering summer day in 1998 when he was installed as bishop.
The countywide diocese has doubled in size in the 14 years since then, to 1.2 million members today. It has also grown more diverse, a change that Brown recognized even in his first Mass, when he thanked the congregation in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Korean.
He ordained a beloved priest, Jaime Soto, as one of the few Hispanic bishops in the United States in 2000. A few years later, he ordained the nation's first Vietnamese Roman Catholic bishop, Dominic Luong.
But it was his handling of the church's sex-abuse scandal that made the most headlines, drawing praise from some within the church and condemnation from victims.
Brown agreed in 2005 to a $100 million settlement with 90 victims who had alleged abuse by Catholic priests, nuns and lay teachers in Orange County. At the time, it was the largest payout of its kind in history.
A Catholic foundation awarded him its Distinguished Leadership Award for his "extraordinary courage and compassion" in settling the lawsuits.
Brown had taken a hard line against abusive priests as the U.S. Conference of Bishops struggled to address the growing scandal. In 2004, he nailed a "Covenant with the Faithful" to the door of Holy Family Cathedral, pledging continued efforts to help victims and greater public honesty.
But several victims and their attorneys have said for years that Brown was part of the problem, squandering millions of dollars to fight sex-abuse cases instead of dealing swiftly with problem priests. In 2007, two women who had won a $6.7 million abuse settlement against the diocese – and a formal apology from Brown – said church attorneys had asked whether they enjoyed the encounters with their abusers.
Brown "was part of the culture of secrecy," said Irvine attorney John Manly, who has represented victims of clergy abuse. "He continued policies that put kids in danger, and he didn't remove problem priests until a legal shotgun was put to his head. ... A victim of sexual abuse shouldn't have to hire a lawyer to get a faith-based institution to do the right thing."
Brown proclaimed the diocese a "safe haven" free of pedophile priests as early as 2001, after another abuse-case settlement required a lengthy review of its personnel files. That review led to the removal of clerics who had worked for years despite admitting abuse.
Yet the court cases and settlements have continued – most recently, a $2 million settlement in June to end a lawsuit that alleged sex abuse and cover-ups dating to the late 1980s.
Joelle Casteix, the volunteer western regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Brown has been a "horrible disappointment" because of his lack of swift action against abusers. "He has continually turned back on his own promises to Orange County Catholics and survivors of clergy abuse," she said.
Outside St. Boniface Church in Anaheim on Thursday, congregants praised Brown for his personal charisma and his vision for the diocese. Laura Avila, 38, said Brown has helped bring together English-, Spanish- and Vietnamese-speakers with multicultural services.
Valerie Bailey, 53, was thankful for the church's food service and said it followed the Biblical teachings of Jesus that the least fortunate should be cared for.
"I believe that the bishop had stayed in that same spirit, that he's reached out to the least of the kingdom," she said.
Brown was the third bishop to serve the Diocese of Orange since it broke from Los Angeles as a separate entity in 1976. He came from the Diocese of Boise, Idaho, where he had served as bishop since 1988. Before that, he served at churches in California, including in Bakersfield and Monterey; he entered the priesthood in 1963.
His supporters describe him as a careful listener and a prudent decision-maker. He had tried for years to build a cathedral for the diocese; instead, he oversaw the diocese's purchase of the Crystal Cathedral earlier this year for a relatively modest $57.5 million.
Speculation swirled Thursday as to who Brown's replacement would be.
Patrick Wall, a close observer of the Catholic Church and a former priest, Benedictine monk and lawyer who now acts as a consultant for plaintiffs and prosecutors involved in clergy abuse cases, came up with a list of three top names: Soto, the former auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Orange who is now bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento; Michael Driscoll, an Orange County-bred priest who has Brown's former position in Boise; and Thomas Olmsted, bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. Wall also put on his short list Michael Warfel, bishop of Great Falls-Billings in Montana.
The Diocese of Orange position is considered a "step up" from other dioceses around the country, Wall said. Because of its large population of Spanish speakers, Orange County could get a Hispanic bishop, he said, or one who is considered conservative. Rome also likes to appoint bishops of smaller dioceses into the top position at a larger diocese like Orange, Wall said.