Let Them Eat Wafers
Bishop ignores heavy parishioner opposition to Cathedral

By Gustavo Arellano
OC Weekly
September 23, 2004

[See also other articles by Gustavo Arellano.]

For years, the hierarchy lording over the Diocese of Orange has dismissed criticism against its policies as not reflective of the county's 1.2 million Catholics. In a confidential Sept. 3 memo to diocesan priests, for instance, Vicar General Father Mike Heher claimed there had been "few e-mails or letters to [Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown] opposing the purchase" of a $1.2 million home for the bishop in an ultra-exclusive gated community.

"The supposed uproar," Heher wrote, "may well be located somewhere other than in the Catholics of Orange County."

Consider that conspiratorial facade over, thanks to the September edition of the diocese's official newspaper, the Orange County Catholic. The newsletter contains the results of a months-long survey conducted by church officials seeking to gauge the concerns of hundreds of churchgoers. "When we asked the people of the diocese to express themselves about their concerns about the church, we didn't know what to expect," wrote diocesan spokeswoman Karen Lane in the survey's intro.

What the survey uncovered is a huge chasm between church leadership and Orange County's faithful. Among other revelations, the survey disclosed that "many respondents" favor extending priesthood to women and abolishing the vow of celibacy currently mandatory for clergy members. "Many" also worry that Catholicism is "losing too many" teenagers to Protestantism.

What is "many"? Who knows? The survey cites no specific numbers or percentages, and diocesan spokesman Father Joe Fenton did not respond to an interview request. But had the majority of those surveyed agreed with the Vatican's doctrine when it comes to female priests and celibacy, the church certainly would have said so.

But that's theology; this is hard cash: the faithful also delivered the financial finger to Brown on two key points of his regime: the proposed $100 million Christ Our Savior Cathedral in Santa Ana, and the $90,000, four-month contract awarded earlier this year to the Softness Firm, a New York-based PR agency that crafted the diocese's infamous "Covenant With the Faithful" response to priestly molestation allegations.

On the cathedral issue, Lane disclosed, "Many people . . . were not convinced of the need for a cathedral, seeming to think of it as an indulgence." Those surveyed felt "that the money [raised for the cathedral] be given to the poor instead." And when it came to the hiring of Big Apple flacks to spin the Orange diocese's pederast-priest-protecting ways, Lane added, "Many people didn't like the diocese spending money for a PR agency, believing that just telling the truth ought to be enough."

This is unwelcome news for Brown, who has laid off diocesan workers and pressured priests to ask for more alms from parishioners while gearing up for the multimillion costs of the cathedral and damage awards or settlement costs from several sex-abuse cases. It's not clear what impact the survey's results will have on His Eminence's plans; but a source close to the Orange diocese predicts that Brown will ignore the recommendations.

"When a large group of people say that they are not in favor of the cathedral, Bishop Brown thinks they just don't understand and that the priests will have to convince them," the source said. "He is going to build the cathedral whether the people and priests want it or not. The pressure will be on the priests—many who also do not want it—to raise the money or be replaced in their assignments."



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