Using an Old Rite for a New Pledge

Times Staff Writer

Turning to an ancient method of public notice, Bishop Tod D. Brown on Sunday nailed to the doors of Holy Family Cathedral a document proclaiming a commitment by the Diocese of Orange to help heal the wounds caused by the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal.

The “Covenant With the Faithful,” a seven-point promise to rebuild trust by fostering an era of honesty, humility and power-sharing, will be displayed at the cathedral for “as long as it takes” to accomplish its goals, said Father Joseph Fenton, spokesman for the diocese.

All 56 parishes in the diocese will receive a copy, and it will also be affixed to their church doors, harking back to a medieval ritual in which important proclamations were posted where townspeople were certain to see them.


The most famous example of the practice was when German monk Martin Luther nailed his disputation clashing with the Roman Catholic Church and its head, Pope Leo X, to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral in 1517.

Officials in the diocese believe Sunday’s rite in Orange is the first time in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in America that the practice has been used here.

Brown’s proclamation should serve as “a wake-up call, a call to action” for the church to face head-on the sexual molestation scandal that has rocked the church, Brown said in a sermon.

“There have been many wonderful causes for celebration for our church in Orange,” Brown said. “But this is a time of travail for our diocesan family. The present sexual abuse scandal is the most notorious in the history of our church in America.”

“I call on all Catholics in our diocese -- clergy, religious and lay -- to join me in wearing our ashes on Ash Wednesday as a sign that we acknowledge the pain of the victims” of the sex scandal, Brown said.

Roman Catholics and some in other faiths wear a mark of ashes on their forehead on Ash Wednesday as a symbol of repentance for sin.


Proclaiming that “it will no longer be business as usual,” Brown said the seven-point covenant should demonstrate that the “Orange Diocese will become ... a shining beacon of confidence, honesty and trustworthiness.”

The seven promises in Brown’s covenant:

* Doing everything possible to help the healing process of the victims of sexual abuse.

* Implementing the American Catholic Bishops’ National Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

* Endeavoring to heal the hurt among the clergy ... who have been humiliated, scorned and disgraced by the scandal.

* Working with all members of the diocese to promote an atmosphere of openness and trust.

* Being open, honest and forthright in our public statements to the media and in our communications with the Catholics of our diocese.

* Restoring confidence in our role as bishops.

* Leading the rededication of the diocese as an ambassador of God’s love that cares for the welfare of the entire county, especially the disenfranchised and the poor.

Some abuse victims and their advocates have said that Brown’s pledges are a ploy to get public support and thus lower the compensation value of 50 sexual abuse lawsuits in the diocese now being privately mediated.


But some observers of the Sunday ceremony gave Brown and the diocese high marks for trying to heal wounds.

“It’s amazing to see something that’s never been performed by a bishop in the United States,” said Javier Garcia of Santa Ana. “It’s an expression of deep commitment within the Catholic Church to correct any past wrongdoings.”

“I’m hoping it’s a new era of openness in the church,” said Debbie Muise of Santa Ana.