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Bishop hires PR Firm

Of all the insults leveled at Orange County’s Catholic faithful by their diocesan leaders this year—a shortlist includes the purchase of a $1.1 million gated-community estate for Bishop Tod D. Brown, His Excellency’s refusal to settle priestly molestation cases, and Brown’s insistence on building a $100 million cathedral despite widespread parishoner opposition—none has been more odious than the hiring of the Softness Group. During a Jan. 15 press conference, Brown announced the rewarding of a $90,000 contract to the New York-based PR firm so they could spin the diocese’s sex-abuse scandal. The flacks immediately went to work. Three days later, Brown made like Martin Luther and nailed onto the front door of Orange’s Holy Family Cathedral his "Covenant With the Faithful"—seven theses that vowed to be "consistent and transparent in our communications with the Catholics of our diocese."

The diocese quieted critics at the time of the contract’s announcement by maintaining that $90,000 purchased only four months’ of work from Softness. But the Weekly has learned that, like nearly all of the things that tumble from Brown’s mouth, the four-month claim was bogus.

Sources tell the Weekly the Orange diocese terminated its contract with the Softness Firm not in April, as Brown pledged, but in September. Since May, the Orange diocese retained the Softness Firm at a cost of $30,000 per month. And that’s not considering standard add-on expenses for PR firms such as airline tickets, hotel rooms, phone bills and meals, expenses that a local publicist said "could easily run from $10,000 to $15,000 per month" considering the high-profile client. Counting the Softness Firm’s original four-month agreement and using the local publicist’s self-admitted conservative estimate, Brown has spent at least $360,000 on pedo-spinning this year. To put that figure into perspective, the Diocese of Orange last year contributed $398,500 to its charitable arm, Catholic Charities of Orange County.

The strangest aspect of this fiasco, however, is the Softness Firm itself: it doesn’t seem to exist. A call to the number listed on a September 2004 credit report for the firm is disconnected. It’s not included in the O’Dwyer’s 2004 Directory of Corporate Communications, the PR industry’s bible. And a worker at O’Dwyer’s New York-based offices said that they haven’t listed the Softness Group for years.

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