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Bishop Moves With Deliberation in Taking Over San Fernando Region

January 14, 1988|IRA RIFKIN | Rifkin is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

A member of Mahony's inner circle said that, so far, Ochoa has received "mixed reviews" downtown.

"People expected a great deal of him quickly. They're sitting on problems, expecting quick fixes," the priest said. "But that's not what's happening. Armando's very cautious and won't make a move without being thoroughly grounded first."

Others, noting the church's timetable moves far slower than much of the world around it, say it is too soon to judge Ochoa. "He hasn't been around long enough for any of us to start a real file yet," said Msgr. Francis J. Weber, the archdiocese archivist.

'Good to Be Around'

"Bishop Ochoa," said one priest who knew him at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, "has always been good at drawing people into a group. He's just good to be around."

Perhaps most indicative of Ochoa's style is his delay in conducting a formal installation ceremony for himself within the San Fernando region, something the two auxiliary bishops who were named at the same time he was already have done in their own areas.

He still has no plans to do so, and part of the reason is his desire not to set himself apart from the average Catholic.

"So many people put a priest on a pedestal and don't let him get off of it. But I'm just a person faced with the same options and temptations as anyone," Ochoa said.

"You know, it's nice to sit down with people and have a beer, even two, instead of having them come over and kiss my ring sometimes.

"I never saw my priesthood as something I wore. It was something I didn't choose. It was just something I cooperated with."

Auxiliary Bishop William Levada was the region's first resident bishop, but within months, Rome transferred him to Portland, Ore. For a while, Msgr. Arthur J. Lirette of Glendale's Holy Family parish kept an eye on the region as an interim caretaker while Mahony worked with the Vatican to get new auxiliary bishops named to fill the spot in San Fernando and two other regions with similar vacancies.

Ochoa, then a parish priest at Sacred Heart Church in Lincoln Heights, was one of the men the archbishop recommended to the Vatican for bishop.

Ochoa had heard rumors that he was being considered by Mahony, but dismissed them as far-fetched. After 17 years "in the trenches," as he put it, serving as a parish priest in heavily Latino communities on the east side of the county, "who's going to believe talk about being named a bishop?"

But a week before the public announcement of his elevation, Ochoa was summoned to the archbishop's chancery office on West Ninth Street near downtown and told that he was now a bishop.

"All I had known was the life of a parish priest. To be appointed an auxiliary bishop was overwhelming. What made it harder was I couldn't talk about it to anyone until the public announcement," Ochoa said.

Mahony acknowledged at the time that Ochoa's appointment, along with that of Bishop P. Carl Fisher, a black who was assigned to the San Pedro Pastoral region, represented "in a very significant way" the church's concern for Los Angeles' ethnic communities.

Ochoa said he assumed that he was also chosen because his social and theological views, as well as his opinions on matters of church discipline, are similar to Mahony's.

For example, Ochoa said he considers women's ordination to be a "non-issue" because of the Pope's opposition to the question, believes that homosexuals should be lifelong celibates in accordance with Catholic teachings that cover all unmarried people and he looks toward faith rather than married men for a solution to the church's growing shortage of priests.

And even with the threat of AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, he said, telling young people about condoms "gives them mixed messages" about the advisability of premarital sex and, therefore, should not be done at school-based public health clinics, such as the one at San Fernando High School.

On social issues, however, he takes a different tack, although, as Father William J. Wood, executive director of the California Catholic Bishops Conference in Sacramento said, "Bishop Ochoa is certainly no liberation theologist." But, Ochoa says, "By gosh, we have to work for the betterment of all people all across the board."

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