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Religious Leaders Laud His Outreach, Compassion : 2 Services Planned for Bishop Johnson

July 30, 1986|MARK I. PINSKY | Times Staff Writer

As funeral arrangements were announced Tuesday for the Most Rev. William R. Johnson and the machinery of succession began, tributes to the spiritual leader of Orange County's 500,000 Catholics sounded common themes of outreach and compassion.

Bishop Johnson, 67, died Monday at St. Joseph Hospital in the City of Orange of complications of kidney and lung ailments. He had been in ill health 1 1/2 years.

At a press conference at Marywood, headquarters of the Diocese of Orange, church officials detailed funeral plans for Johnson, who was appointed the county's first bishop in 1976.

"We are having two Eucharistic celebrations for Bishop Johnson, in order to accommodate as many people as possible," said the Most Rev. John T. Steinbock, auxiliary bishop of the diocese.

Mass for Lay Community

A Mass for the lay community is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, with a viewing before and after the service until 10:30 p.m., when a vigil service will be held and the Rosary recited.

At 10 a.m. Friday, a Mass of Christian Burial will be held for clergy and members of religious orders, also at Holy Family Cathedral. There will no viewing on Friday, and interment at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Orange will follow the Mass.

Flanked by a color portrait of Johnson, Steinbock announced that a "board of consultors," composed of six priests from the diocese, had met and named Steinbock interim administrator of the diocese. As auxiliary bishop, Steinbock explained, he does not hold the right of automatic succession. Steinbock is considered by church sources as a candidate, but by no means a certain choice.

Within the next two to 10 months, Pope John Paul II is expected to appoint a successor to Bishop Johnson, based on the recommendation of the papal nuncio, the Rev. Pio Laghi, who is based in Washington, D.C.

Gave Himself Totally

Steinbock praised Johnson as a leader who, in the last 18 months, "despite the pain and suffering he had experienced through this time . . . continued to give himself totally to the pastoral and administrative role as bishop."

Johnson, Steinbock added, "was responsible for empowering the laity in fulfilling roles of leadership and in shared decision-making on the diocesesan level, as well as encouraging this strongly on the parish level. . . . Under his direction, the Diocese of Orange and the Catholic population of Orange have been greatly involved in reaching out to the poor, the aged, the handicapped. We could go on and on concerning his leadership through these 10 years. We simply wish to say that he was a compassionate, loving person and will truly be missed and greatly remembered."

In a statement released by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where Johnson served as auxiliary bishop from 1971 to 1976, Archbishop Roger M. Mahony said that Johnson "served the church of Los Angeles and of Orange with vision, fidelity and generosity. As head of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles for many years he expanded the church's outreach to the poor and distressed with great compassion and energy."

Johnson's memory, Mahony said, "will remain at the very heart and center of the church's fidelity to Christ's compassion and concern for all peoples, especially the poor and the neglected."

'Most Vivid Witness'

Mahony said that Johnson's "pastoral leadership in establishing a new Diocese of Orange 10 years ago and his subsequent development of that new local church will long remain as the most vivid witness of his priestliness and of his dedication as a shepherd."

Henri E. Front, rabbi of Temple Beth David in Westminster and chairman of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, said, "the Roman Catholic community has lost a spiritual leader of deep sensitivity and great social consciousness," and that Johnson's death created "a profound sense of loss to that community and to all of us in Orange County."

Members of the Jewish community, he said, "share this grief because he was somebody who shared our concern for people." A recently instituted Holocaust memorial observation co-sponsored by the diocese, Front said, "was just typical of his awareness of our community."

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