The Most Rev. William R. Johnson, bishop to 500,000 Orange County Roman Catholics, was reported gravely ill from complications of kidney disease and in a coma Monday.
Officials of the diocese announced that Johnson, 67, was admitted to St. Joseph Hospital in Orange on Saturday after he reported there for his regular dialysis treatment. Johnson has been suffering from kidney problems for several months.
According to Monsignor Michael P. Driscoll, chancellor of the diocese and former secretary to the bishop, Johnson was not feeling well Friday and began running a temperature Friday night. When he went to the hospital, doctors found an infection in a lung and his bloodstream, which later in the weekend developed into bacterial pneumonia.
Johnson received the last rites Sunday, and Sunday night a breathing tube was inserted into his throat. Early Monday he had cardiac arrest, Driscoll said, but was revived. Later Monday he went into a coma and did not respond to medication.
"He has enabled the church here to grow so much," Driscoll said. "He has fought the battle, as St. Paul said, and he has merited the crown."
Appointed in 1976 as the first bishop of the newly established Orange County Diocese, Johnson has been known as a strong advocate of social justice, establishing a department of Latino ministries in the county and speaking out strongly against the nuclear arms race. Under his leadership, the diocese grew from about 350,000 to nearly 500,000, accounting for about one in four people living in Orange County.
Before his appointment to the Orange County post, Johnson served for five years as auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles under Cardinal Timothy Manning. He served as a priest in predominantly black and Hispanic parishes and for 17 years he headed the Catholic welfare board.
Johnson was born in Tonopah, Nev., but was educated in Los Angeles from elementary school through seminary. Since 1984 Johnson has been assisted by the Most Rev. John T. Steinbock, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Orange.