Tod and Me

2007: A year to remember

When you're a Catholic covering theChurch's sordid sex-abuse scandal, taking a break from your job is not only impossible, but it's also a sin. Years of catechism instilled in me the necessity of good thoughts, good actions and prayer. Especially prayer: Before I sleep and eat, I pray for my mortal soul. While in my car, I grasp the rosary on the rear-view mirror lest it become a blasphemous Dancing Jesus. Even as I write this story at Weekly world headquarters, a Virgin of Guadalupe lined with flashing Christmas lights illuminates my desk. God is love, and He demands mucho genuflection.

Church attendance is another matter. I continue to believe in Jesus, Mary and the saints, but I stopped attending Mass around the time I latched onto the Orange diocese sex-abuse scandal in 2004. I couldn't stand praying among county Catholics since they haven't yet overthrown the amoral hierarchy of Bishop Tod D. Brown. And if a parishioner-led coup didn't happen this year—one that saw the Weekly reveal Brown had never disclosed a molestation allegation against him, paid off an admitted statutory rapist $100,000 without telling his flock, and didn't report two perverted priests as required by law when he served in the Monterey diocese during the 1980s—it'll probably never happen.

Nevertheless, because God is a wonderful practical joker, I still end up in Catholic churches on a non-reporter basis—weddings, baptisms, funerals and other social occasions. And because God is a jerk about it, he makes me run into Bishop Brown. A lot.

Take what happened around May. My family continues to attend Mass, and that's how I found myself at Anaheim's St. Boniface Church, my boyhood parish and home to at least five admitted child molesters, including one (John Lenihan) whom everyone knew had raped girls, though no one had bothered to do anything about it. It was the confirmation ceremony for my brother and little cousin, and I tried to beg off. "Don't go to support the Church," my mom advised. "Go for your brother."

Confirmation is a sacrament in which Catholics affirm their faith to Jesus and, as stated in our catechism, "render our bond with the Church more perfect." I don't want my brother to have any bond with the Church—God, sí­—but my parents rule the Arellano household. St. Boniface's pews filled with proud, nattily dressed Mexican, Filipino and Vietnamese families. I tried to hide behind a pillar. But shortly before the ceremony started, I moved next to the aisle so my brother could see I was there for support.

From a distance, I saw the pointy miter of Bishop Brown. He smiled and nodded to all the parishioners, swinging an incense lamp. And then he saw me. Our eyes locked. His smile hardened. He walked on. Later in the Mass, Brown strolled around St. Boniface, sprinkling the parishioners with holy water. Again, our eyes locked. He knew.

There will be confirmations in the Arellano family for the next six years, at least. Screw you, God.

This wasn't the only unexpected run-in I had, nor was it the best. On Oct. 9, I headed to Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler's courtroom to hear the finalization of a settlement between the Orange diocese and four of its sex-abuse victims. As I crossed Civic Center Drive, I spotted Brown's familiar ruddy complexion. He was walking with longtime diocesan counsel Peter Callahan, and they were laughing.

The two didn't notice me since they were too busy talking about how to escape a contempt-of-court motion against Brown, so I walked as far away as possible while still being able to eavesdrop on them. I held up a newspaper to cover my face. The scoop of the century? Not really—the damn traffic muffled their conversation. But I did discover that Callahan's ring tone at the time was the Notre Dame fight song.

After the hearing, Brown, Callahan and others gathered outside the courthouse for a press conference. The traffic was too loud, so I moved to the only place where I could properly hear—at the feet of Bishop Brown, who stood in front of microphones. Coincidence? Another divine whoopee cushion? No matter what it was, Brown and I stared at each other again, mutual bad pennies that won't stop turning up until God stops cracking up.

 
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