County Latinos are hopeful that Bishop Norman F. McFarland will grasp what they see as a "wonderful opportunity" to recognize and show his commitment to Latino Catholics when he fills the vacancy left by the death Oct. 13 of Archbishop Tomas Clavel, vicar to Hispanics.
The position is "most important" to the county's estimated 350,000 Latino Catholics, who compose about half the diocese, said Amin David, president of Los Amigos of Orange County, a Latino business and civic organization.
David said Latinos want their leader to take a more active role than he has in the past. Based largely on a perception that the Hispanic Ministries Department has become less active under McFarland, he added, "the bishop's posture may be viewed as 'let the momentum seek its own course.' I don't think there's any planning that considers this mighty element coming into play. It is viewed as a factor that is here, but let it not be visible."
McFarland said two positions would be needed to replace Clavel: a Vicar to Hispanics and an auxiliary bishop to help share duties such as confirmations. While McFarland may name any priest to fill the vicar spot, appointments of bishops must be made by the Vatican.
The bishop said he was unsure when either position might be filled.
Because of the growing numbers of Latinos in the diocese, David said the new vicar "has to be one that has the calling to speak out and not necessarily just follow a conservative guideline. Every gain that has been gotten here for Latinos has been gotten by a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It's a push-pull situation."
Clavel was instrumental in gaining Spanish Masses in parishes with English- and Spanish-speaking churchgoers and in helping immigrants obtain citizenship under new immigration laws. Still, the diocese's Catholic Charities helped pre-register only about 10,000 of the eligible 60,000 undocumented workers in the county.
"More needed to be done than was done," David said.
But McFarland pleased Latinos by denouncing the Immigration and Naturalization Service raid into La Purisima Catholic Church in Orange in September. "It gave us a ray of hope that the bishop is becoming more aware of the plight of our brothers and sisters," David said.