Bishop Tod D. Brown
Bishop Tod D. Brown
Keith May

The Catholic Diocese of Orange's History Book Is Pretty-and Pretty Pathetic

Loose Canon
The Catholic Diocese of Orange's history book is pretty—and pretty pathetic

The fun never stops with Catholic Diocese of Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown. Last week, attorneys filed another lawsuit alleging the Church protected Jeff Andrade, the former Mater Dei High School assistant boys' basketball coach who admitted to having sex with a student during the 1990s. The week before that, Brown wrote a letter to former Bishop of Sydney Geoffrey Robinson—a clerical sex-abuse survivor and fierce critic of the Vatican's pedo-priest cover-up—to cancel his scheduled June 11 speech at the Costa Mesa Community Center because the visit would be "a source of disunity and a cause for confusion among the faithful of our local church of Orange." But that's not the most important thing on His Eminence's mind right now—like yours truly, he wants you to buy his book!

For the past couple of months, the Orange diocese's website and various church bulletins have urged the faithful to purchase Diocese of Orange: Learning, Loving, Living our Faith, a history of the second-largest diocese west of the Mississippi, written by priest William Krekelberg and diocesan chancellor Shirl Giacomi. As a history, Diocese of Orange is structured to interweave the growth of Orange County with the expansion of the Church. It starts with the 1769 baptism of two Indian girls (forever ungrammatically memorialized in Orange County topography by Cristianitos Road) by the Gaspar de Portola expedition, sent forth by Father Junipero Serra as scouts for the coming Mission San Juan Capistrano. After a couple of pages focusing on the Mission days, the book breezes through nearly a century of history in about 20 pages—understandable, since the Diocese of Orange wasn't spun off from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles until 1976.

At that point, Diocese of Orangeslows down and offers a thorough, well-written retelling of the diocese's growth, with special segments devoted to education, its various charities, bishops and ministries. Each parish also receives a page devoted to its individual history (except the Eastern Rite churches, which only get their name and date of establishment). Coupled with gorgeous pictures and thorough retellings of every campaign launched by the Catholic Church in Orange County (few people know, for instance, about the many Mexican missions established during the 1920s through the 1940s—and idiots say Spanish-speaking colonies didn't exist until after the illegal-alien invasion . . . ), it's the perfect coffee-table book for county Catholics.

And that's Diocese of Orange'scardinal sin. It's so insistent on covering the positive, the efforts they can highlight through glossy, happy pictures, that its most-controversial episodes are either bowdlerized or flat-out ignored. For instance, in listing all the Catholic schools ever established in Orange County, the authors place an asterisk next to Our Lady of the Pillar, Immaculate Heart, St. Philip Benizi and St. Mary's schools, noting the first two and last two merged (into Annunciation School in Santa Ana and Fullerton's School of Our Lady, respectively) without disclosing that the primary reason for combining them was because the Orange diocese had to cut back on school financing to pay off sex-abuse victims. Krekelberg and Giacomi ridiculously assert that the mission's secularization after Mexico won its independence from Spain was a "man-made catastrophe," despite much evidence that the Juaneños suffered under the whips and patronizing attitudes of the padres. Speaking of patronizing, the two authors' description of the Juaneños as easily converting to Catholicism because of "their friendliness and docility" is the most racist description of Orange County's original inhabitants since Geronimo Boscana, a friar at the mission, wrote in his 1820s anthropological study of the Juaneños that they "may be compared to a species of monkey" and that their "grave, humble and retired manner" concealed "a hypocritical and treacherous disposition."

Of course, no oversight is greater than Diocese of Orange's coverage of the Church's sex-abuse scandal. It doesn't mention at all the specific cover-ups perpetuated by its head bishops—William Johnson, Michael Driscoll (to whom, the book gushes, the diocese "owes much of its successful beginnings, its vitality and strong pastoral development"), John Steinbock, Norman McFarland and Brown. Instead, readers get two pages devoted to the scandal, couched in the art of spin and broken up with Brown's vague proclamations. "One cannot undo the past, and the most credible apology is genuine reform," Krekelberg and Giacomi write, conveniently ignoring the developments of 2007, a year when the Weekly revealed Brown had hidden a sex-abuse complaint filed against him during the 1990s (see "Nailed?" April 27, 2007) and Brown and diocesan attorneys bullied sex-abuse victims anew.

One wonders at the reasoning behind the production of Diocese of Orange, a pretty book that probably cost a bit of cash to publish. And then, we're reminded: Two weekends ago, Brown urged parishioners to tithe an additional $400,000 to assist parishes and schools in need. When you hold Diocese of Orange—glossy, ambitious, heavy, 25 bucks a pop—the connection is obvious.

Diocese of Orange: Learning, Loving, Living Our Faith by William Krekelberg and Shirl Giacomi; Editions du Signe. Hardcover, 192 pages, $25.


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