Former Santa Rosa Diocese leader John Steinbock dies at 73

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Bishop John T. Steinbock, who led the Diocese of Santa Rosa for four years before becoming the leader of the Diocese of Fresno, died Sunday morning.

Steinbock, 73, had been diagnosed with lung cancer in August. He died at 3:15 a.m. at the St. Agnes Medical Center in Fresno, according to the diocese.

A native of Los Angeles, Steinbock was the bishop in Santa Rosa from 1987 to 1991, a tumultuous time for a diocese that would later be rocked by allegations of sexual abuse.

Steinbock left the Santa Rosa diocese three years before allegations of child abuse, which had occurred over two decades, became public in 1994.

He served as bishop of the Fresno diocese for 19 years until his death. In Fresno, Steinbock took a hard line on any allegation of sexual abuse involving priests, teachers and staff members, diocese spokesman Jesse Avila said. Steinbock fired at least two priests and referred them to law enforcement agencies, Avila said.

"If he did find a priest that even if the evidence was not something a prosecutor said was sufficient for a criminal case, and he felt the person should not be ministering, he would address that," Avila said. "He has terminated people, he has removed faculty, he has forcibly retired people ... he felt in his heart it was the right thing to do."

Avila said that Steinbock will also be known for bringing financial stability to a diocese that in 20 years grew from 400,000 Catholics to 1.1 million.

He instituted a deacon program, improved the morale of the clergy, expanded the role of women in church governance and even bought a satellite TV station to broadcast a religious message worldwide, Avila said.

He was also a prodigious fund-raiser, raising $38 million for new buildings, even though it was a role that he disliked.

"He was held in high esteem for being spiritual, a prayerful man," Avila said. "He was never comfortable at a fund-raiser. He was more comfortable celebrating Mass in jail or farm camps."

He was also fluent in Spanish, which served him well in the Central Valley.

On Sunday, the day he passed away, the diocese was holding the Procession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a celebration at which Steinbock loved to celebrate Mass and participate in the cultural entertainment with 5,000 worshippers.

"He has accomplished quite a bit by any standard. He is a person who is highly regarded," Avila said.

Steinbock's role in the sexual abuse controversy in Santa Rosa was a minor one.

Steinbock suspended the late Don Kimball in 1990, three years after Kimball had admitted to Steinbock that he had fondled teenage girls, Steinbock testified at Kimball's 2002 criminal trial.

Kimball, a priest and charismatic youth minister, was suspended after he refused to accept another assignment and give up his youth ministry, according to Steinbock's testimony.

Steinbock was ordained to the priesthood in 1963 at the Cathedral of St. Vibiana in Los Angeles and served as an associate pastor and in roles as a diocesan administrator for two decades.

In 1984, Steinbock was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Orange, where he served until he was appointed the bishop of the sprawling Santa Rosa diocese in 1987.

His successor in Fresno will be appointed by Pope Benedict XVI.

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