Bishop Tod Brown of Orange, California

The Orange County Register / August 30, 1998

The Most Rev. Tod D. Brown, soon to be installed as the third Bishop of Orange, discussed in a recent interview his background, philosophy and hopes for his new post.

Q. Did you always want to be a priest?

A. No. I wanted to be an attorney or doctor, but eventually felt the best way to serve was by being a priest. There was no lightning bolt from the sky. It was a gradual decision. I saw good things happening in the church, and it was clear (God) was offering me a chance to serve.

Q. Who's your favorite pope?

A. Pope John XXIII. He was the first pope I met, and the way he guided the Second Vatican Council was inspirational. (The council, held in the 1960s, made tumultuous changes and modernized church liturgy, worship and administration.)

Q. How would you characterize your own leanings in a Vatican climate that has been characterized as traditional to ultraconservative under Pope John Paul II?

A. I don't like labels. But I suppose I would be called moderate. I'm in line with the official teachings.

Q. What is your stand on abortion?

A. I oppose it. But I'm sympathetic with those who are struggling with the issue. Most women don't want to take that route, but don't see a way out. There needs to be more promotion of other alternatives.

Q. Homosexual rights and blessing of homosexual marriages has become a divisive issue among many churches today. What are your thoughts on the issue?

A. Obviously I don't endorse the gay lifestyle, but I have concerns about their civil rights. I wrote letters against an anti-gay initiative in Idaho, which I believed would contribute to attitudes of intolerance and hostility directed at homosexual citizens.

Q. What's the biggest challenge for Christians today?

A. Learning to live in a world in which they are considered counterculture. There's a tug between religious life and secular society. Materialism often removes the focus from God. Believers find themselves at odds with the prevailing culture on issues such as capital punishment, abortion, even belief in God.

Q. Have you ever doubted the existence of God?

A. No. But I have sometimes wondered if he forgot me. In those times I say the prayer of surrender, asking for guidance.

Q. What is difficult and rewarding about being a bishop?

A. Two difficult areas are personnel and finances. The most painful thing is when a talented priest leaves the ministry. The rewards are getting to know people and the pastoral care, looking after the spiritual welfare of the community.

Q. What was your most difficult achievement in Idaho?

A. The Vitality Project was very important, dealing with increased congregations and decreased number of priests. Thousands of church members participated in making changes. (The project joined together some parishes, shut down others and delegated work so that some priests would be in charge of two congregations.)

Q. What do you do to relax?

A. Ride motorcycles. Read Robert Ludlum thrillers, church history, spiritual biographies. Movies.

Q. What are your plans and goals for the Diocese of Orange?

A. I look forward to being shepherd of the church. But I have much to learn and so I have no pre-arranged plans. I come as a learner to hear the people and move forward with them under God.

Q. You are coming to a diocese that is more than half Hispanic, 12 percent Vietnamese, and with large numbers of Koreans and others. Do you see this as a big problem?

A. Of course, diversity is challenging. And diversity is wonderful in that it reflects the wonder of God.

Q. What are you looking forward to in Orange County?

A. Leading the church's millennium celebration preparations. It's been 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus. That's a long time, but yet such a short time. And it's important to take a moment to reflect on what God means.

The Orange County Register / September 3, 1998

As Bishop Tod D. Brown officially becomes shepherd of the Diocese of Orange today, his flock offered plenty of advice. The Orange County Register recently asked churchgoers at local parishes about their recommendations for Brown. Here are their opinions:

Ella Walters, 66, St. Cecilia, Tustin: "(Outgoing bishop) Norman McFarland was a godsend. He stood up for traditional values. He fought for the rights of the unborn. ... Any good successor would be smart to follow his example."

Philip Maxwell, 47, St. Catherine of Siena, Laguna Beach: "I have a gay son who left the church because it dehumanized him. Ministries in Long Beach and Los Angeles have done a lot to reach out to gays. Our diocese has stayed silent. We pretend like it doesn't exist. The new bishop should champion compassion toward homosexuals. They need to feel that God and we love them no matter who they are."

Teresa Vasquez, 29, Our Lady of the Pillar Church, Santa Ana: "Organize more countywide events where ethnic groups can interact. This diocese is really diverse, but we don't commingle. The Hispanics do their thing. The Vietnamese have their own ministry. The Koreans hold their separate functions. You don't see chances for cultures to learn from one another."

Trish Somers, 22, St. John Neumann, Irvine: "Brown should try to ordain a woman into the priesthood. Oh, who am I kidding?"

Richard Parks, 38, St. Hedwig, Los Alamitos: "We're very lucky to have a steady stream of new priests. The (incoming) bishop needs to keep that going. He should find ways to encourage young people to take up vocations. If not, he'll face a shortage of priests like he did in Idaho."

Dat Van Vo, 53, St. John the Baptist, Costa Mesa: "The new bishop should pray and pray for guidance. It's Christ who ultimately heads the church. Our priests are just his instruments."

Julie Figueroa, 41, St. Cecilia: "(Brown) shouldn't toe the Vatican line. The pope has been working to suppress debate by anybody who disagrees with him. People can think for themselves, you know. They don't need to be forced into accepting something. ... Dissent is healthy, because you can compare your beliefs with (that of) others. Our next bishop should be big enough to encourage discussion on what being Catholic means in the 21st century."

Dao Thi Tran, 72, St. Callistus, Garden Grove: "I'm grateful to celebrate Mass in Vietnamese and have a Vietnamese priest at my parish. I spent most of my life in a foreign country, so it's hard to assimilate. My children have no problem with the new ways. We elders, though, we can't adjust that easily. We hope the new leader will allow us to still worship in our way."

Timothy Ng, 16, St. Polycarp, Stanton: "I see more and more of these interfaith groups emerging in Orange County. The bishop could get involved so everyone pitches in to help the needy. It would show that religions can unite for a good cause."

Ann Phuong Nguyen, 42, St. Columban, Garden Grove: "To me, McFarland was a distant bishop. He was comfortable only with people who were in line with him and backed his agenda. ... A bishop needs to talk and listen to his people everyone, supporters and dissenters. That's the real test of a good leader. He can take both praise and criticism."

Margaret Smith, 29, Holy Family Cathedral, Orange: "This new bishop will lead us into the next millennium. He needs to start by outlining the priorities of his job. He should form a vision of what our diocese will be like in the coming age. And he should get input from everybody priests and lay worshipers."