Bishop Kevin W. Vann, who led the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth through a difficult period of settling sex abuse cases and oversaw massive growth of the 28-county diocese during his seven-year tenure, is leaving to become the bishop in Orange, Calif.Pope Benedict XVI named Vann to the new position, which he will take over in December.Vann, 61, was installed as the third bishop in Fort Worth in July 2005, just one day after the death of Bishop Joseph P. Delaney. He will become the fourth bishop of the Orange Diocese, which, with an estimated 1.3 million Catholics, is the 10th-largest and fastest-growing Catholic diocese in the country.One of his tasks will be overseeing the transformation of the Crystal Cathedral, the former home of evangelist Rev. Robert Schuller, into the spiritual and administrative headquarters of the Orange Diocese.His replacement in Fort Worth has not yet been named.At a news conference in California on Friday, Vann said he was excited about the opportunity and would try to build on what he learned in Fort Worth."I have so much to be grateful to God for the people of the Diocese of Fort Worth, and North Texas and beyond," Vann said. "I will miss them very much. But I promise that as we grow together in this exciting and dynamic time of the Diocese of Orange, I will love you and do my best to serve you with the Lord's help. That is one thing I learned in Fort Worth, and what I will live here."When he was ordained as bishop in Fort Worth, Vann faced a diocese that had been rocked by allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Under his leadership, at least 27 people settled abuse claims, including three women. Most of the settlements were confidential.Vann acted quickly to get in front of the sexual abuse accusations and told the Star-Telegram in 2006 that the handling of the abuse cases by his predecessor had been "a huge, moral failure" and that he would have handled things differently if he had been leading the diocese at the time."The challenging thing for me is, all my life, I have always tried to respect my predecessor wherever I've been," Vann said at the time. "But I can't defend the indefensible."Fort Worth City Councilman Dennis Shingleton, who is a member of St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in North Richland Hills, said Vann faced many difficult challenges when he assumed leadership of the diocese."He took over in a difficult time with the allegations and aura of child abuse by very few priests, even some here in North Texas," Shingleton said. "He handled it very, very well."But Shingleton said Vann will be remembered mostly by North Texas Catholics as a visible and accessible bishop."I think his legacy is his availability to neighborhood parishioners," Shingleton said. "He can be firm but he's very attuned to the membership. I liked his predecessor but he was not nearly as affable and collegial."Growth in dioceseDuring Vann's tenure in Fort Worth, the population of Catholics in the diocese grew from 400,000 to 710,000.The population of the diocese, which stretches across 24,000 square miles, is expected to increase to 1.2 million by 2030, making it one of the fastest-growing dioceses in the nation.In November 2011, the diocese announced that it planned to invest $50 million over the next decade to add parishes and schools and renovate existing facilities.The diocese also announced plans to relocate its administrative offices from west Fort Worth to downtown but has since backed off on those plans.Fort Worth Councilman Sal Espino, a member of All Saints Catholic Church on the city's north side, praised Vann for leading capital campaigns to help rebuild and revitalize many of the inner-city churches and schools."The Catholic diocese was one of the biggest investors in the inner-city of Fort Worth under his leadership," Espino said. "I would say his stay in Fort Worth was exemplary. My experience with him was with All Saints and Cassata [High School] were very positive. He was everywhere, not just in the inner-city parishes or suburban parishes but in the rural parishes as well."Newell Williams, dean of Brite Divinity School at TCU, said Vann did an outstanding job of reaching out to other faith groups."I first met Bishop Vann the night he was installed as bishop right here on our campus," Williams said. "The memory I will carry with me most is the way he welcomed Catholic and Disciples of Christ leaders from around the world last summer when we hosted the Disciples of Christ/Roman Catholic Bi-Lateral Dialogue."Vann also spoke to other congregations, including the Jewish synagogue Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth.The Rev. Stephen Jasso, pastor of All Saints Catholic Church, said Vann used a warm, personal style of leadership."The one thing about Bishop Vann is he goes out to the priests and the people," Jasso said. "He's the only bishop I've seen so many times, but never in his office. He came out here to lunch. We would talk. It's a wonderful quality he has."In a letter posted on the Fort Worth Diocese website Friday, Vann thanked parishioners for their support."I have been very proud to say these last seven years that 'I am the Catholic Bishop of Fort Worth,'" Vann wrote. "The growth and expansion of the Diocese, its missionary spirit, and the involvement of so many people - priests, religious, and lay faithful - in every way in the life of the local Church and beyond is well known all over the United States, and in the mission outreach of Diocese to so many parts of the world. For that and more, I humbly thank you and ask for your prayers now."Immigration advocateThe Fort Worth Diocese became more diverse under Vann and last year opened one of the largest Vietnamese Catholic churches in the nation -- the Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church -- in Arlington.An advocate of immigration reform, Vann -- who regularly addresses congregations in Spanish -- also spoke in Spanish during Friday's news conference, noting that the Spanish speakers in his North Texas parishes describe the church as " la familia de Dios" -- the family of God. He closed his remarks by speaking in Vietnamese, according to the Orange County Register.Like Vann, his predecessor in Orange, Bishop Tod D. Brown, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75, faced the challenge of cleaning up abuse allegations when he was installed in 1998.In 2005, he agreed to a $100 million settlement with 90 alleged abuse victims, then the largest payout of its kind at that time, the Register reported .While he won praise for those efforts, he also had his share of critics.Brown "was part of the culture of secrecy," Irvine, Calif., attorney John Manly, who represented victims of clergy abuse, told the Register."He continued policies that put kids in danger, and he didn't remove problem priests until a legal shotgun was put to his head. ... A victim of sexual abuse shouldn't have to hire a lawyer to get a faith-based institution to do the right thing."Vann will take over a diocese that purchased the famed Crystal Cathedral in bankruptcy court. The transformation of the huge cathedral, which has been renamed Christ Cathedral, is expected to be finished by June.Catholic leaders from around the world toured the church in August and Catholic officials told the Register that the Catholic Church "can create here the most significant Catholic cultural center in the world outside of the Vatican."Jasso, the All Saints pastor, said he is not surprised that Vann has been assigned to such a large diocese."Everybody will miss him, no doubt, and we are hoping and praying we will get somebody that will keep doing the same good job Bishop Vann did," Jasso said. "We will see what the Lord gives. Maybe we will even get a Hispanic bishop.''Staff writer Darren Barbee and correspondent Jim Jones contributed to this report, which includes material from Star-Telegram archives and the Orange County Register.Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698Twitter: @fwhanna
Bishop Kevin Vann in Fort Worth
May 2005 -- Vann, formerly a monsignor in the Springfield, Ill., diocese, is appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to lead the 28-county Fort Worth Diocese, replacing Joseph Delaney, who had been bishop since September 1981.
July 12, 2005 -- Delaney, who had been ill for years, dies on the eve of Vann's ordination as successor.
July 13, 2005 -- Vann is installed as third bishop of the dioceses.
February 2006 -- The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests delivers a letter to Vann, urging him to call for the Rev. Joseph Tu Ngoc Nguyen's removal from a Houston parish. Nguyen had formerly worked at an Arlington church, where he was accused of sexual misconduct with six women and girls.
November 2006 -- The Fort Worth diocese reaches a settlement with 11 men who accused the Rev. James Reilly of abusing them when they were altar boys at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Arlington. Vann said in a statement that the church is committed to protecting children.
November 2006 -- Files detailing sexual abuse allegations by six priests in the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese are released to the public. The files revealed that former Bishop Delaney and other church leaders sometimes intentionally misled the public, their congregations and the priests' accusers.
December 2006 -- In a sharp rebuke of his predecessor, Vann called the handling of sexual-abuse accusations against priests a "huge moral failure" and said he would have done things differently .
December 2006 -- Vann removes a Wichita Falls priest from active ministry because of the priest's admission of sexual abuse of a minor in the early 1970s.
December 2007 -- Three men who accused the Rev. Thomas Teczar of molesting them reach an out-of-court settlement with the Fort Worth diocese. Vann apologizes to the men and says he is appalled and angered by the "sin and crime."
June 2008 -- The Fort Worth diocese agrees to pay a settlement in the "five-figure range" to a Tarrant County man who said he was abused by the Rev. James Reilly. The man, who did not sue, was abused between the ages of 11 and 14 in the late 1970s.
August 2009 -- Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the Fort Worth diocese says the Catholic population has risen from 65,000 to 562,000.
November 2008 -- Catholic Charities breaks ground on a $15 million building that consolidates its social service programs. The Fort Worth diocese donated 4 acres for the project.
March 2009 -- The Fort Worth diocese agrees to pay $775,000 to five people who accused the late Arlington priest James Reilly of sexual abuse.
October 2009 -- Vann and the Catholic Bishops of Texas issue a statement supporting healthcare reform but urging lawmakers to add requirements to the measure, including further restricting funding for abortions.
September 2010 -- The Vatican announces that Vann has been named to a committee that will lay the groundwork for the incorporation of U.S. Anglican groups into the Roman Catholic Church.
January 2011 -- Vann makes his first formal visit to a local Jewish synagogue, speaking at Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth.
November 2011 -- Fort Worth diocese announces that it plans to invest $50 million over the next decade to add parishes and schools.
December 2011 -- Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church in Arlington opens as one of the largest Vietnamese Catholic churches in the U.S. and also the largest of the 90 Catholic churches in the diocese's 28-county North Texas region.
January -- The Vatican names Vann to oversee Episcopal priests who want to become Roman Catholics on an individual basis.
May -- The Fort Worth diocese files a lawsuit in federal court, saying its religious liberties are under attack by provisions of the Affordable Healthcare Act that require it to cover contraceptives and other services contrary to church doctrine.
August -- The Fort Worth diocese shelves plans to move its administrative offices to downtown from the west side and pulls out of a proposed $35 million project designed to bring apartments, shopping and office space to Lancaster Avenue.
Source: Star-Telegram archives
Fort Worth bishops
Since 1969, when Pope Paul VI carved 28 North Central Texas counties from the Dallas Diocese to create the Fort Worth Diocese, three men have led the diocese.
Bishop John J. Cassata
He was appointed bishop on Oct. 21, 1969 as the first bishop of the new diocese. He resigned as bishop on Sept. 16, 1980, but continued to serve as apostolic administrator until a successor could be named. Casssata died in September 1989.
Bishop Joseph P. Delaney
He was installed on Sept. 13, 1981 as the second bishop of the diocese and served 24 years as bishop. He died on July 12, 2005.
Bishop Kevin W. Vann
The third bishop of the diocese was ordained and installed on July 13, 2005. The Illinois native begins his new position in California in December.