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O.C. bishop dies: Tod David Brown settled church sex abuse suit, apologized to victims

Bishop Emeritus Tod David Brown, who became known for settling one of the largest sexual abuse cases brought against the Catholic Church, has died, the Diocese of Orange announced.

Brown died early Sunday at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange after a long battle with lymphoma, said Msgr. Tuan Joseph Pham, a close friend. Brown was 86.

Brown was the third bishop for the Diocese of Orange, which was created from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1976, and the first California bishop to settle sex abuse claims against Catholic clergy. He was instrumental in the $100-million settlement of a lawsuit brought against the Roman Catholic diocese by 90 victims and established protocols that increased training and background checks for all clergy and lay employees.

The 2005 settlement was, at the time, the country’s largest payout by the church to alleged victims of sexual abuse. Under the settlement, Brown opened his personnel files, publicly releasing information on the clergy abuse allegations.

In settling, the church did not accept legal liability, but Brown at the time said he would apologize to the victims himself. By agreeing to the settlement, he set a tone of openness and remorse at a time when the church was facing waves of allegations brought by parishioners.

“We have done this in the larger hope of reconciliation and healing,” Brown told worshipers after finalizing the settlement. “We hope that our actions can restore the trust that many have lost in the leaders of the church.”

Brown also faced a 1997-era allegation of molesting a boy while serving as a priest in Bakersfield, but he was later cleared by an internal investigation by church officials, and police and prosecutors found the claim not credible.

Bishop Kevin Vann said in a statement Sunday that Brown had served the Diocese of Orange from 1998 until his 2012 retirement “with his tireless spirit and witness to Christ.”

“I remember especially his kindness to me when I was a newly ordained priest years ago,” Vann said. “I ask for your prayers for the repose of his soul and for thanksgiving to God for his many years of ministry and evangelization.”

Brown told the Orange County Catholic, the diocese’s official newspaper, that he felt a calling to the priesthood while in high school.

“I prayed about that, discerned and thought I would try it out,” Brown said. “My parents weren’t real keen on it at first, but they went along with it.”

Brown would go on to serve as the bishop of Boise, Idaho, before leading the Orange diocese. He resigned from his position at age 75, as the church requires, with a legacy of improving the church’s response to sex abuse allegations.

According to the OC Catholic, Brown was responsible for putting in place protections including requiring “stringent and comprehensive” background checks for all clergy and establishing an office in the diocese dedicated to protecting children. He also established an independent Oversight Review Board to investigate when clergy are accused of sexually abusing minors. The policies were replicated across the country, the OC Catholic reported.

“I hope that what we have done — the changes we have made in our policies and our personnel practices — will guarantee that, as much as is humanly possible, these things will never happen again,” Brown said at a 2005 news conference.

Pham, who met Brown in 1998 and worked alongside him for years, said Brown saw it as his responsibility to keep the church “on the right path” by establishing the protocols and apologizing to victims.

“He thought it was the right thing to do,” Pham said, “to humble ourselves and be able to apologize.”

Brown long denied the allegation of abuse against him, which was revealed in 2007 after a judge unsealed testimony related to a lawsuit against a former Mater Dei basketball coach. Brown spoke under oath in that case. When asked during his deposition why he kept the claim secret, The Times reported, Brown said he “knew it wasn’t true” and “it was very embarrassing and very painful.”

“The three worst and most painful days of my life,” Brown told the OC Catholic, “are the death of my parents and the false accusation.”

Brown also helped the church secure the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove in 2011. The landmark building is known for its 10,000 panes of glass and 236-foot bell tower. Pham said Brown “worked tirelessly” to secure the cathedral.

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