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Catholics Proclaim Their Faith

Religion: Despite the current sex scandal, a record number of O.C. adults are confirmed.

April 23, 2002|BILL LOBDELL and DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Even as the largest scandal in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States stretches into its fourth month, a record number of Orange County adults decided Monday to make a lifetime commitment to the faith.

Nearly 400 adults--baptized in infancy as Catholics but who somehow missed the second rite, confirmation--went through the ceremony at St. Columban Church in Garden Grove before an overflow crowd of 1,700. Last year, 220 adults in Orange County were confirmed in the Catholic Church.

The show of faith mirrors recent survey results that the recent sex-abuse scandal, which first surfaced in Boston this year, has not driven Catholics from the church.

The Catholic Church across Southern California also reported record numbers of converts who came into the church this Easter. In the Los Angeles archdiocese, for example, about 3,350 converted this year, compared to 2,770 last year. Orange County had a 9.5% increase in new Catholics this year.

Will Alvarez of Anaheim, among those confirmed Monday, said he has never doubted his faith. But he said the controversy made for an interesting lead-in to the service.

"The timing of the confirmation is odd," said Alvarez, 29. "But just because of a few bad apples, that doesn't change what the Catholic Church stands for."

Bishop Tod D. Brown, who performed the rite Monday night with the help of four priests, said the record turnout shows the strength of the church's truth, even amid controversy.

"It's remarkable, really," Brown said. "I've never had a confirmation class of adults this large. It's very encouraging [that] these people are making the move ahead even with the backdrop."

Brown did not duck the sex-abuse scandal during the ceremony, telling the crowd, "We've given you a very difficult Lenten period. The trials aren't over yet. But Easter gives us hope."

A leader of the program, Mike Shaffer, said of the newly confirmed, "These folks want to become more involved Catholics. Confirmation is a time when the Holy Spirit enters the person's soul in a profound way. They are saying, 'I want to live my life as a committed Catholic.' "

Confirmation is a Roman Catholic sacrament usually taken by adolescents who want to accept personal responsibility for their baptismal vows. For a variety of reasons, the Catholics at the St. Columban's ceremony never did so as children.

James Harter, 26, of Huntington Beach said he didn't have a problem reconciling his faith in the Catholic Church, but that didn't stop his friends from giving him some grief.

The scandal "was a point of some humor and some jokes," Harter said. "You think about what's going on. But it's good to have something to go to during these times."

The ceremony came on the eve of an unprecedented two-day meeting in Rome between Vatican officials and U.S. Cardinals to figure out how best to deal with the sex scandal. On Monday, prelates were divided on whether Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston should resign. Law, who has refused to step down, had knowingly transferred from parish to parish priests who had molested children.

The scandal has touched the Diocese of Orange, with three priests removed from their parishes and two major settlements, including one for $5.2 million for a single victim, within the last year.

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