ORANGE, Calif. (CNS) — Retired Bishop Norman F. McFarland of Orange, who led the diocese for 11 years until his 1998 retirement, died April 16 after a brief illness. He was 88.
A funeral Mass was to be celebrated April 23 at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange.
Bishop McFarland was known throughout his episcopal career as a top financial manager, including keeping what was then the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas out of bankruptcy with eight days of phone calls to his fellow bishops to provide grants or long-term loans to help out the diocese, which had been laid low by a series of bad investments.
Born Feb. 21, 1922, in Martinez, Bishop McFarland was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1946. He soon afterward earned a degree in canon law from The Catholic University of America in Washington, and returned to San Francisco to teach and to work in the archdiocesan tribunal.
He was appointed an auxiliary bishop of San Francisco in 1970.
Four years later, he was appointed apostolic administrator for temporal affairs for what was then known as the Diocese of Reno. After meeting the federal Securities and Exchange Commission’s demand for $3.3 million eight days after his appointment, he found additional sources to meet the diocese’s other debts. By the end of the year, Bishop McFarland had been named the apostolic administrator of the diocese, and was formally installed as its bishop in March 1976.
Bishop McFarland ran the diocese, renamed the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas, for close to 11 years — freeing the diocese from all of its debt obligations during his tenure — before being appointed to Orange, where he served until retiring in 1998. (In 1995 the statewide diocese was split into separate dioceses of Reno and Las Vegas.)
In a 1993 column in his monthly diocesan newspaper, the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, Bishop McFarland called Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (“On Human Life”) “one of the great and prophetic religious happenings of the 20th century” and said it summed up the church’s “vision … regarding marriage, family life, human sexuality and responsible parenthood.” He added the encyclical was prophetic in its message that the use of sex only for pleasure was ruinous.
“We have today the highest divorce rate in American history,” he added. “Could it just possibly be that artificial contraception is not all that beneficial to the stability and happiness of marriage after all?”
Also in 1993, Bishop McFarland suspended the faculties of a priest who had led a boys’ choir after former members accused the priest of having abused them.
In 1988, after the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, as it was known then, disrupted an early morning Mass inside an Orange church to arrest seven people on suspicion of being illegal aliens, Bishop McFarland said he hoped the INS “realized that they made a mistake — one that was imprudent and irresponsible. … Mistakes are mistakes,” he said. “But if they’re repeated one has to question the motives.”
He said the agents’ actions suggested the image of “a police state.”
Afterward the INS issued a new policy that said its agents would no longer enter churches in pursuit of illegal aliens without a search or arrest warrant or prior approval from a supervisor.
In 1992, the bishop commented on politicians whose votes were not consistent with Catholic teaching, saying their conscience may lead them outside of the church. “The bottom line is that you must always follow your conscience no matter what the consequence, and this would include the possibility of a situation where you conscience did not agree with Catholic teaching,” he said.
He complained in 1998 about Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., making “incursions” into Catholic parishes on Sunday mornings as she ran for re-election. Sanchez, a Catholic, supports keeping abortion legal.
Bishop McFarland was part of a three-bishop commission appointed by Pope John Paul II in 1990 to investigate the finances of the fiscally troubled Diocese of Fresno, Calif. The year before, he was part of a team that helped the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., cut its $22.5 million debt.
In 2005, he contributed money and lent his name to a writing fellowship sponsored by Act One, which seeks to populate Hollywood with writers who have ethical and spiritual backgrounds as well as scriptwriting skills. Bishop McFarland said at the time the fellowship reaffirmed “the church’s continuing encouragement and support of artists in all arenas.”
In 1988, he was one of several bishops who told Catholics in their diocese to not see, and to write letters of complaint against, the showing of the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Rather than an attack on freedom of speech, Bishop McFarland said, “it is a cry of anguish from millions of hurt and offended people whose deepest religious sensibilities and most revered convictions of faith are being assaulted.”
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