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Retired Bishop Brom of San Diego dies at 83

SAN DIEGO — A funeral Mass will be celebrated May 17 for retired Bishop Robert H. Brom of San Diego, who died May 10 in San Diego. He was 83.

The Mass for Brom, who headed the diocese from 1990 until 2013, will be celebrated at St. Therese of Carmel Church in Del Mar Heights, California, followed by burial at Holy Cross Cemetery.


“He was a natural teacher who constantly labored to bring the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council into the heart of the Diocese of San Diego,” Bishop Robert W. McElroy, current head of the diocese, said in a May 10 statement.

“This dedication to the council also framed his lifelong service in forming men for the priesthood,” he added.

Robert Henry Brom was born Sept. 18, 1938, in Arcadia, Wisconsin. He earned a bachelor’s degree at St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, and a licentiate in sacred theology from Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.

He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Rochester-Winona in 1963.

In 1983, St. John Paul II appointed him bishop of Duluth, Minnesota, and in 1989 named him coadjutor bishop of San Diego to assist Bishop Leo T. Maher.

When Maher retired in 1990, Brom immediately succeeded him, heading the diocese from July 10, 1990, until Sept. 18, 2013, when he retired.

“Bishop Brom’s deep love for our parishes and pastoral vision were complemented by a keen administrative capability in guiding San Diego through years of joy and hardship,” said McElroy. “In his retirement years, Bishop Brom intensified the prison ministry that he began as bishop and his service to the Missionaries of Charity.”

St. Teresa of Kolkata, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, was one of two people Brom often said were the most inspirational in his life. The other person was St. John Paul.

As it was for many bishops, Brom’s most notable challenge was the clergy sexual abuse scandal confronting the Catholic Church in the early 2000s.

He led a subcommittee of U.S. bishops whose charge, he said, was to develop a process to “hold ourselves and each other responsible” to the terms of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

The charter was originally established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002. It is a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and other church workers.

In 2007, the San Diego Diocese was sued by survivors of sex abuse; a majority of these cases occurred before Brom’s time as head of the diocese. The bishop said the scope of the suit could cause the diocese to declare bankruptcy, which it did in February of that year.

Brom also was stung by resurfaced claims accusing him of abuse — allegations he said had been shown to be false a decade earlier.

“I consider it a grave injustice that my reputation and the good of the church have been harmed by those who presently, and for years, have made me the target of their slanderous attacks,” Brom said during the chrism Mass he celebrated that March.

“Personally, I am able to forgive them, but the harm they have done and are doing cannot go unmentioned,” he said.

In September 2007, the dioceses of San Diego and San Bernardino, California — the latter had broken off from the former in 1978 — agreed to pay $198.1 million to settle lawsuits with 144 victims of sexual abuse by priests between 1938 and 1993.

The dioceses had originally offered $95 million to settle the claims. The plaintiffs sought $200 million. At the time, it was one of the largest such settlements in the United States.

Brom met with many abuse survivors and their families to promote healing and reconciliation. He also helped resolve several false allegations.

On other issues, Brom issued a statement in 1990, not long after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

He said he supported “international solidarity” to resist aggression because it offered hope “for the peaceful liberation of Kuwait.” The statement was read during an anti-war rally on the campus of the diocesan-run University of San Diego.

In a pastoral letter issued during Easter 1992, Brom called on Catholics to welcome immigrants even when available resources “seem stretched to the limit.”

He instructed parishes to actively seek out immigrants to bring them into their faith communities, and called on pastors to emphasize the church’s teachings on the right to immigrate and responsibilities to the poor.

The pastoral noted that in the diocese there were an estimated 30,000 immigrant workers, the majority of whom were Mexican or Central American and many of whom lived among the rural homeless.

“Many have been homeless for years. They live where they can — holes in the ground, makeshift shacks, open fields — in appalling conditions of extreme poverty,” he said.

From the beginning of his ministry in San Diego, Brom believed the diocese’s many ethnic and cultural groups enriched the local church.

He spent his first three months as coadjutor studying Spanish so that he would be able to minister effectively to the diocese’s substantial Hispanic population. As bishop, he authorized establishment of the diocesan Office for Cultural Diversity.

Brom upgraded the diocesan Ecumenical Commission to the status of a full diocesan office and became the first bishop in the country to appoint a vicar for ecumenical and interreligious affairs.

Another of his priorities as San Diego’s shepherd was making pastoral visits to parishes. He made visits five times to all of the approximately 100 parishes in the two-county, 8,852-square-mile diocese.