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    Bishop Tod Brown, who led the Diocese of Orange for 14 years, has died
    • October 16, 2023

    Bishop Tod D. Brown, who led the Dioceses of Orange for 14 years before his retirement in 2012, died early Sunday morning, church officials said. He was 86.

    Brown came to the diocese in 1998 from the Diocese of Boise, leading Orange County Catholics until his retirement at age 75 – the typical age of retirement for bishops. He saw the diocese through several years of significant growth, including the purchase of the Crystal Cathedral in 2011, as well as its dark years addressing the clergy sex-abuse scandal locally.

    During Brown’s tenure, the diocese more than doubled its membership and by 2012, he was shepherd to more than 1.2 million Catholics in Orange County. He recognized the diversity of the county’s Catholics, ordaining the nation’s first Vietnamese Roman Catholic bishop in 2003 and one of the few Hispanic bishops in the United States in 2000. He also development a relationship with the Archdiocese of Hanoi and made multiple trips to Vietnam.

    “With his tireless spirit and witness to Christ, Bishop Brown faithfully served the people of the Diocese of Orange since 1998 when Pope St. John Paul II appointed him bishop and ordinary of our diocese. I remember especially his kindness to me when I was a newly ordained priest years ago, and we were together at the Casa Santa Maria in Rome in the Fall of 1981,” Bishop Kevin Vann, who has served the diocese since Brown’s retirement, said in a statement.

    “I ask for your prayers for the repose of his soul and for thanksgiving to God for his many years of ministry and evangelization,” Vann said.

    Monsignor Tuan Joseph Pham was Brown’s secretary for six years and said Brown had a vision for building a cathedral as the new spiritual home for the diocese.

    The Bishop of Orange, The Most Reverend Tod D. Brown gives his comments during Santa Margarita Catholic High School’s graduation exercise at UCI’s Bren Center in 2010. (File photo by Andy Templeton, The Orange County Register.)

    Property near Segerstrom High was under consideration, when the Crystal Cathedral filed for bankruptcy protection and Brown and church leaders spoke with Rev. Robert Schuller about the 35-acre campus in Garden Grove.

    In 2011, a federal judge approved the sale to the diocese for $57.5 million. Brown’s daily prayers for a cathedral had been answered in an unexpected way, Pham said.

    “I felt very bad that they lost their home. However, we needed a new Catholic cathedral because our cathedral is very small,” Brown said in 2012 when the new Christ Cathedral name was announced. “Dr. Schuller himself said he wanted us to be the ones to purchase it, so we would continue Christian worship in the cathedral and Christian ministry on the campus. That would not have happened with another buyer.”

    Fr. Bruce Patterson, now the Episcopal Vicar for Priests, remembers Brown’s leadership and having a “real vision in mind” and said the acquisition of the property for the Christ Cathedral “really did help us find a spiritual home that allowed us to express our diversity.”

    The campus puts the diocese in a position to offer leadership in the church not just locally but throughout the state, he said. “We can do a lot of great things here.”

    Patterson and Pham also spoke of the leadership Brown showed in handling the settlement of sexual abuse lawsuits.

    “His willingness to take the stand on principal when other bishops were reluctant to do so,” Patterson said, “he had a lot of compassion for the victims and I really admired that.”

    In 2005, Brown agreed to the largest settlement of its kind that had been seen as of then, paying $100 million to 90 victims who had alleged abuse by Catholic priests, nuns and lay teachers in Orange County. It was the first settlement in California.

    The year before Brown had nailed a “Covenant with the Faithful” to the door of Holy Family, pledging the public honesty and continued efforts to help victims. At the time of his retirement, it was noted the hard line he had taken against abusive priests as the U.S. Conference of Bishops struggled to address the growing scandal.

    Brown had his detractors who argued he should have dealt more swiftly with abusers when allegations arose instead of spending time fighting some cases in court.

    In 2014, in an interview for his retirement, Brown said “the decision to settle and to try to bring peace to the victims was very, very important.”

    In a later interview, he said, “We’ve established protocols for employees and clergy, background checks, audits, everything we can do to prevent the abuse from happening again. This is unfortunately a part of our legacy, and it’s something that should never be forgotten. The actions we take to prevent abuse is unending. It must be.”

    Brown was just the third bishop to serve the diocese, which was split in 1976 from the the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Brown lived the last years of his life at Holy Family Catholic Church in Orange. He had been in failing health recently.

    Fr. Sy Nguyen is the pastor at Holy Family and said Brown attended Mass and events in his retirement and was always very giving to the congregants.

    “He was a gentleman in the sense that he would greet the people and give the people his time,” Nguyen said.

    Brown cared for and supported the priests in the diocese, if they were struggling he would call and check on them, Nguyen said. “They would find in Bishop Tod a real spiritual father.”

    Pham remembered visiting parishes often and Brown inviting priests to dinner in his retirement, he said. “He was very social.”

    Patterson said he hoped Brown would be remembered for his compassion and “how gracious he was, what an even tempered gentleman he was.”

    At the time of his retirement, Brown said he hoped his legacy “will be that people see me as having been a faithful shepherd, pastor, and that by means of my leadership they may have been drawn closer to the Lord.”

    Brown is survived by his brother Daniel Brown and sister-in-law and their children and grandchildren. Diocese officials said information on memorial services would be coming in the next few days.

    ​ Orange County Register