Bishop who worked to empower minorities
Frederick H. Borsch, who as the Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles crusaded for an inclusive social justice agenda that empowered women, gays and lesbians, blacks and Hispanics, and poor and lowwage workers, died on April 11 at his home in Philadelphia. He was 81.
The cause was myelodysplastic syndromes, a form of blood cancer, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles said.
Between positions at Princeton and Yale, Bishop Borsch presided over the sprawling six-county Southern California diocese from 1988 to 2002, and there he elevated female and Hispanic clergy members in the church hierarchy.
Despite opposition from the world’s Anglican bishops, he championed the ordination not only of celibate gay men and lesbians, but also of those in committed monogamous relationships.
Bishop Borsch didn’t just talk. He walked the picket line outside a Beverly Hills hotel with workers demanding what they called a living wage and helped convince Mayor Richard J. Riordan that minimum pay should be higher.
When a black priest was unjustly detained and handcuffed on church grounds while the police were pursuing a suspect, Bishop Borsch demanded, and received, a public apology from the Los Angeles Police Department.
His supporters were not the least bit surprised when he chose to build the diocesan headquarters, the Cathedral Center of St. Paul, in Echo Park, an ethnically diverse neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles. (Nor were they surprised when, characteristically modest, he initially resisted installing the bishop’s ceremonial throne at the cathedral, although he later acknowledged with a grin, “It’s incredibly comfortable.”)
Frederick Houk Borsch was born on Sept. 13, 1935, in suburban Oak Park, Ill., to Reuben Borsch and the former Pearl Houk. His father played baseball with a St. Louis Cardinals farm club before becoming a Rhodes Scholar and a lawyer.
Given Frederick Borsch’s preference for scholarship and teaching (and only fanciful hopes of being recruited to the Dodger bullpen), he earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1957 from Princeton and expected that he would become a lawyer like his father or teach college English.
But although as a young acolyte he rejected a suggestion from his parish priest to enter the priesthood, the question lingered.
His goal remained to somehow make the world a better place, and he began to gravitate to another calling.
“I began to feel more and more the real heart of that was related to faith,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1999, “to giving people hope in life.”
Instead of entering law or teaching, he received a bachelor of sacred theology degree from the General Theological Seminary in New York, a bachelor’s in theology from Oxford and a doctorate from the University of Birmingham in England.
He is survived by his wife, the former Barbara Edgeley Sampson; their sons, Benjamin, Matthew and Stuart; four grandchildren; and his sister, Jane Borsch Robbins.
Before being elected bishop, he was dean of the chapel and professor of religion at Princeton and dean, president and a professor at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif.