Plan for Catholic Cathedral in Santa Ana Is Criticized

By William Lobdell
LA Times [Santa Ana CA]
August 13, 2004

Despite financial problems and the looming possibility of a large settlement with sexual-abuse victims, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange is moving forward with plans to build a 2,650-seat cathedral in Santa Ana, angering activists critical of the church's treatment of people allegedly molested by priests.

About a dozen alleged victims protested Thursday near a $1.2-million home that the diocese has bought close to the cathedral site to serve as the rectory.

The protesters, most with lawsuits pending against the church, said that buying the home in a gated section of Santa Ana's Armstrong Ranch near South Coast Plaza illustrated the misplaced priorities of the diocese.

In recent months, church officials have cut 15% of its central office staff and reduced or eliminated several programs, the third straight year of reductions. The church also faces more than $50 million in payouts to 88 plaintiffs who said they were molested by priests.

"These guys act like kings," said a 46-year-old alleged victim of sexual abuse who asked not to be named. He stood with others at the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Raitt Street with picket signs and banners.

"Why build a $100-million palace that offends all Catholics?" he added. "Jesus didn't do that. The bishop needs to fix his old house [the church] before he builds his new house."

Bishop Tod D. Brown said the sexual-abuse cases remained a priority and would be settled before fundraising begins for a new cathedral and parish, estimated to cost about $100 million. He also said the cathedral project was a necessity, not a luxury, for the booming Orange diocese, the second-largest west of the Mississippi and home to about 1 million Catholics.

"There continues to be a serious need for a larger parish in Santa Ana," said Brown, whose cathedral fundraising campaign has been delayed since 2002 because of the sexual-abuse scandal and shaky economy. "And the mission of the church has to continue it can't be frozen in place for an indefinite period of time."

In the past few weeks, he said, this meant securing a development agreement with the city of Santa Ana for the Christ Our Savior Cathedral site and buying a home in the neighboring community for priests who would serve there.

The house purchase was reported Thursday by the alternative newspaper OC Weekly.

Brown said he would not live in the house, which is in escrow. Instead, he will stay in the current bishop's residence in a middle-class Santa Ana neighborhood. It was bought for $338,000 soon after Brown was installed as bishop of Orange in 1998 and later expanded.

The cathedral plans submitted to the city of Santa Ana show an "office/residence building" on the property, but Brown said a rectory or bishop's residence wouldn't be built there.

The cathedral would replace Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, which was converted from a parish church when the Diocese of Orange was split off from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles 28 years ago.

With a seating capacity of 850 and no room for expansion, officials said, the diocese has outgrown the building.

Some parishioners disagree.

"We don't need a new Catholic cathedral," said Mary Tripoli, a Huntington Beach resident who joined the protesters.

"We need to compensate the sexual-abuse victims and show good faith. Why does the bishop need to build this new monument?"

The 16-acre cathedral site in Santa Ana might also become the church's administrative headquarters, now in another part of Orange on a former parochial high school campus.

Though an architect hasn't been selected, plans submitted to Santa Ana city officials give a rough outline of the project, which includes 100,000 square feet of building space.

Under the cathedral would be a 45,000-square-foot undercroft designed to house crypts.

A 30,000-square-foot parish hall is planned next to the cathedral, along with a 24,000-square-foot building for offices and residences.

Joelle Casteix, a leader among Catholic victims of sexual abuse, said the priests working at the new cathedral could be housed inexpensively in on-site apartments, at diocesan headquarters in Orange or in nearby parishes.

"We see it as a personal offense that a priest should live in a million-dollar home," Casteix said. "Poverty, piety and chastity I don't see any of that in Orange."