Bishop Thomas Olmsted

More from this show

An interview with Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Phoenix Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Bishop Olmsted will discuss his outreach to the Hispanic Community, the Easter season, the sentencing of former Bishop Thomas O’Brien, and the issue of sexual abuse within the church.

>> José Cárdenas:
Good evening, I'm José Cárdenas. Welcome to a special edition of "Horizonte." Tonight I interview Bishop Thomas Olmsted installed three months ago as the bishop of the Phoenix Roman Catholic Diocese, a diocese facing big challenges.

>>Announcer:
Funding for "Horizonte" is funded by Bank of America, Who applauds those who strive for excellence. Bank of America, higher standards. And by SRP. SRP's business is water and power, but our dedication to the community doesn't stop there. SRP, delivering more than power.

>> José Cárdenas:
On December 20th, Bishop Thomas Olmsted was installed of the new bishop of the Phoenix Catholic Diocese. Bishop Olmsted was coming to a diocese under fire for sexual misconduct by priests, and where the prior bishop had to step down because he left the scene of a fatal hit-and-run accident. We will talk to Bishop Olmsted about those issues, plus many others, including his ministry to Hispanics. But first, let's take a look at a clip from his installation.

>>Michael Sheehan:
Bishop Olmsted, you've come to begin your ministry as the fourth bishop of Phoenix with much experience, experience as a priest, experience as a pastor of souls, experience as a Vatican official, a seminary rector and, of course, diocesan bishop of Wichita, Kansas, for the last several years. And of course, you've come to us as a deeply spiritual follower of Jesus Christ, a man of faith, a man that is going to speak volumes to the people of Phoenix about holiness and about following Jesus, the Lord. And so, we are so grateful that you have said yes, and we're grateful to the church of Wichita for the gift of you to the southwest. We ask God to give you three things, first of all, wisdom to make good judgments, because you'll have to make lots of judgments and decisions as the bishop, of course. Secondly, that God will give you the grace of strength to be able to fulfill those decisions. And thirdly, that the Lord will give you peace in your heart, peace so that you can sleep at night. Despite the challenges that we have faced, the church of Phoenix is indeed spiritually alive, is indeed very strong. The clergy, religious and laity await your leadership. As apostolic administrator for past six months, I'm happy to turn the reins over to you. Perhaps I should say turn the crosiere over to you. The symbol of governance is of course, the bishop's crosier. Last evening, you quoted from this very pulpit, from the beautiful exhortation of our Holy Father to the bishops of the world, pastorus gragus (phonetic), and beautiful things that you shared with the priests last night at the vesper service. Let me call to mind some of those words that John Paul II says to you as you begin your ministry here. That the goal of the bishop is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, savior of the world. May God give you great strength and great enthusiasm in sharing that message of hope about Jesus being the savior of the world. I want to recognize this morning, the long and fruitful ministry of Bishop Thomas O'Brien, who is with us today. Under his guidance -- [ APPLAUSE ] You are called by the Holy Spirit in the church to serve Almighty God and the people of the Diocese of Phoenix in faith and love, as their shepherd. Are you willing to accept this see in the tradition of the apostolic faith of our church?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
With faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the love of God in my heart, I do accept the pastoral care of the people of God in the Diocese of Phoenix. I resolve to serve faithfully the church of this diocese.

[ APPLAUSE ]

>>Commentator:
We are just seconds away from officially having our new bishop. And we now have a bishop.

>> José Cárdenas:
And here with us on the "Horizonte" set is Bishop Thomas Olmsted, leader of the Phoenix Roman Catholic Diocese. Bishop, welcome to "Horizonte" and thank you for joining us.

>>Thomas Olmsted:
Thank you very much, good to be here.

>> José Cárdenas:
I should first mention that my law firm represents the Diocese in a variety of matters. I personally don't have any involvement, but I wanted to mention that. I want to start with an overview of your first few months here in the Diocese. How have they been?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
It's been wonderful. First of all, I come from a farm, so I love learning about the desert. This isn't the kind of desert I anticipated.

>> José Cárdenas:
In what way?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I knew the Sahara desert. That's just sands, drifting sands. Here there is different kinds of plants, animals, mountains to climb, trails to hike. That's been a great joy for me.

>> José Cárdenas:
Not many mountains in Kansas where you come from?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
Not at all.

>> José Cárdenas:
The differences in the Diocese?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
The Diocese here is probably ten times as large as the Diocese in Wichita, and it would therefore have a lot of challenges of a big city that I didn't didn't have to deal with there.

>> José Cárdenas:
In terms of numbers, how many Catholics in this Diocese versus the one you came from?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
The Diocese I came from had 115,000 Catholics. Here there would be around 600,000 Catholics, perhaps more than that, but that's how many we would have registered.

>> José Cárdenas:
Were you frightened by the challenge of going to such a large urban diocese given that you came from a small rural one?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
There is always those kind of niggling little fears that come to us when we're going to a new place. I was confident this is where God wanted me and so I trusted he would give me the grace to serve here.

>> José Cárdenas:
Any major surprises in these first three months?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
Major surprises? No, I don't think so. I didn't have any kind of clear set idea of what I would find here. So, no, I don't think there has been any major surprises.

>> José Cárdenas:
Your selection was a bit of a surprise to a lot of people. There were a number of names that had been mentioned, speculation was that it would be a Hispanic bishop. Has that been mentioned to you when you arrived?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
It has, and I fully understand. I never at all anticipated myself that I would come. Recognizing the large Hispanic population here and the long history of Hispanics in this area, I can understand why there would be speculation that the bishop would be Hispanic.

>> José Cárdenas:
What were the processes by which you came to be chosen as bishop for the Diocese of Phoenix?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
Every bishop is chosen by the successor of St. Peter, so by John Paul II. He does a consultation in advance of the bishops of that country, especially the bishops of the region, and then he makes the choice.

>> José Cárdenas:
Coming into Phoenix, what were your major goals for this Diocese?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
First goal was to promote healing and fresh hope, because I was aware of the difficulties of the past year, and of the way that that was a discouragement and a great concern for so many of our people. So I wanted to especially among my brother priests who were my closest collaborators on arriving here, to get to know them, to build up a sense of trust with them, and then get to know the lay people, the religious, the deacons of the diocese.

>> José Cárdenas:
I want to talk about how you feel you are progressing toward fulfillment of those goals, but before you do that, tell us about he yourself, your life and how you became a priest?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
My background was quite simple. I was raised on a small farm. I went to a little tiny grade school. I rode the horse to school, Or I rode my bicycle to school. There was one room with all eight grades, one teacher.

>> José Cárdenas:
This is all in Kansas?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
This is all in Kansas. So I had a very simple background. I came from a home where to pray was as natural as to breathe. We prayed together as a family in the morning, before all meals, in the evening. I was very active on the farm with all of the chores that are involved with living on a farm. I played a lot of baseball and basketball and other sports.

>> José Cárdenas:
When did you become a priest?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I became a priest in 1973.

>> José Cárdenas:
A good portion of your career in the priesthood was spent in Rome; is that right?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
That's correct.

>> José Cárdenas:
Tell us about that.

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I was in Rome for 16-and-a-half years.

>> José Cárdenas:
What did you do there?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
My first four years I was there as a seminarian, prior to being ordained a priest. I returned after three years of serving as a priest to do three more years of graduate study until I got a doctoral degree in Canon Law. Then I was asked to work as an assistant to John Paul II for 9-1/2 years in the Holy See.

>> José Cárdenas:
What was that like?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
It was a great inspiration to work alongside John Paul II.

>> José Cárdenas:
Your duties were what?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I was part of a large staff. The staff had to do translation work for him. I helped him to deal with all of his correspondence, his telephone calls, the various ways that has he communicated with the church and with the larger world.

>> José Cárdenas:
How do you think your experiences in working with the Pope have influenced your career as a bishop?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I would say that the person I most tried to imitate or the one that most inspires me is John Paul II. So when I see his great love for young people and his constant effort to engage young people and bring them into the life of the church, that has deeply influenced me. His commitment to travel all around the world, to show that the church is to be part of every culture and to embrace every language, every land. All of that has influenced me to appreciate the richness of the diverse Catholic church.

>> José Cárdenas:
The Pope himself is viewed as somewhat conservative on the spectrum. Do you think that that characterizes you as well?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I would say that I would be similar to him in terms of my thinking. I don't have the rich mind he has, or his background, but I think my views on issues would be quite similar to his.

>> José Cárdenas:
And another similarity is you speak several languages; is that right?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
That's correct, yes.

>> José Cárdenas:
They are?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
Well, the languages that I worked with all the time in Rome would have been Italian, and then I had to be able to work with French and with Spanish and with English and with Latin.

>> José Cárdenas:
Where did you learn Spanish?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
When I was in college I worked in Baja, California in the mission. I had studied Spanish in college. I wanted to get engaged in a situation where I saw the church working among the poor. I worked in Baja, California for two summers.

>> José Cárdenas:
Do you think your facility with Spanish played a role in your selection as Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix.

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I can't imagine them choosing someone who did not understand Spanish and could speak Spanish.

>> José Cárdenas:
I heard you speaking at the Cesar Chavez function and your Spanish is beautiful.

>>Thomas Olmsted:
Thank you.

>> José Cárdenas:
Tell us a little bit about Jesus Caritas.

>>Thomas Olmsted:
Jesus Caritas is a school of sprituality for priests. It's had a huge impact in my own life. When you belong to Jesus Caritas, you commit yourself to do an hour of prayer alone every day in adoration of Christ. You commit yourself to try to do a day alone each month in prayer called "a day in the desert," which is now really in the desert.

>> José Cárdenas:
You're in the right place.

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I'm in the right place. And you do one day with five or six brother priests in which you reflect on your life in Christ and your service of the church, pray together, enjoy time together, and then review your life together, to help become more faithful to what the church is calling you to do.

>> José Cárdenas:
Now, going back to the outreach to the Hispanic community, one of your first masses was at Immaculate Heart Parish. Tell us about that.

>>Thomas Olmsted:
It was the highlight for my family. That happened to be December 21st, my mother's birthday, and she told me that although the whole time here was deeply moving, that was the day that she most enjoyed.

>> José Cárdenas:
Why was that?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
It was her birthday. They sang happy birthday to her. Everything else was done in Spanish, but the way she was warmly embraced by this community was something that deeply moved her and my sister's and brother who were here.

>> José Cárdenas:
Wichita, you had a number of initiatives targeted at the Spanish community; is that right?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
That's correct.

>> José Cárdenas:
Can you tell us about that?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
When I arrived in Wichita, the previous bishop had really reached out to the Hispanic, but he didn't speak Spanish well. My being able to do that made it possible to have the liturgy with them much more frequently, to have meetings conducted in Spanish or in English with sisters, the priests, the lay people who were working on initiatives. It was also the last five to ten years in Kansas have seen a huge immigration of Hispanics.

>> José Cárdenas:
How do the demographics of Wichita compare to the demographics of this diocese in terms of Hispanics?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
The demographics there would be about 10% to 15% of the Catholic population being Hispanic. Here I think it's about 30%.

>> José Cárdenas:
Do you see a departure of Hispanics from the church? If so, what is being done to bring them back?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
Sadly, I see a departure of not only Hispanics but others as well from the church. I think that's due to a culture that has less connectedness with the Jewish Christian tradition that we have. We also have a number of Hispanics moving into this region, and when people move into a region, it takes time to get connected with a parish and to become involved in the church.

>> José Cárdenas:
Bishop, how would you compare your management style with your predecessor's, Bishop Thomas O'Brien.

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I don't know Bishop O'Brien well enough to compare myself with him. I would say that my own style is more influenced by John Paul II, which I would call a personalist style. His way of showing a keen interest in each person, his great ability to listen. I was at many meetings with him, and he was constantly drawing people out through his own questions, and from them, learning about situations so that the best decisions could be made.

>> José Cárdenas:
Speaking of Bishop O'Brien, he will be sentenced tomorrow in connection with that hit-and-run accident. Any comments on that?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I don't know what the sentence will be, of course. I will continue to consider him my brother in Christ, which he is. I will continue to pray for him and as far as possible, support him in whatever the sentence is.

>> José Cárdenas:
What was your reaction to the conviction?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I was saddened by it. I have no idea whether it's a good decision or not. I just -- getting to know Bishop O'Brien, I know how painful it's been for him, around I share with him in that.

>> José Cárdenas:
You talked earlier about the pain that exists in the Diocese, which is something you came to when you joined us, and a large measure of that was the sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the church both here and nationwide. Let's start first with the John Jay report. Can you tell us about that?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
Well, the bishop of the United States was convinced that we had to be very decisive in dealing with this issue, with this very serious problem. And in order to do that well, we had to understand it well. So we had to gather as well as possible the concrete data about how many priests had been accused, how many victims had come forward, how the church was responding to those victims, and then what things we were putting into place to prevent this in the future.

>> José Cárdenas:
What did the report have to say about the Diocese of Phoenix?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
The report reflected accurately what has happened here as far as I can tell, which is that there were 19 priests who were accused of having abused a minor, and I think there were 73 victims that have come forward to say that they were abused.

>> José Cárdenas:
Now, the Diocese and the County Attorney's office reached an agreement that calls for the implementation of a sexual abuse policy. Can you tell us what the status of that is?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
Yes, a lot of that was already accomplished during the time of archbishop Sheehan being here. I'm so grateful for the great amount of work he did during that regard during the six months that he was here. So I did not have to do a large number of things when I came. However, within the first week of my coming, I did call up the county attorney's office, set up an appointment, went over it, and visited with him. I told him that I wanted to have good lines of communication, and that was based on my previous experience in Wichita where I asked to visit with the County Attorney there, with the police department, and with the social services of the state to be sure that we were in good communication and that we could deal together with issues as they would arise.

>> José Cárdenas:
You were dealing with similar issues in Wichita?

>> Thomas Olmsted:
Yes.

>> José Cárdenas:
The policy calls, I understand, for a summit. When is that going to take place and what will it entail?

>> Thomas Olmsted:
The Summit will take place on May 20th. The purpose of the summit is to help the larger public and others who are interested in addressing this issue within their own perhaps congregation or their institution, in an effective way. We want the Summit to provide information from what we've learned. We will have Kathleen Chesney coming. She is kind of the point person, you can say for the American bishops right now in charge of the Office for the Protection of Children and Young People. She will be able to tell us what's happened all across the country in terms of the Catholic church. Then there will be other speakers as well to tell us what's happening in other sectors of our society.

>>> José Cárdenas:
What outreach has been done for victims of sexual abuse in this Diocese?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
There is a child protective assistant who was appointed, Jenny O'Connor. We've made known to victims that we want them to come forward. We've provided her telephone number, her E-mail address, ways that she can be contacted. Archbishop Sheehan contacted as many victims as he could while he was here, and I have continued that since I came, contacting and meeting with two or three approximately every week since I came.

>> José Cárdenas:
On a different subject, the church's position on abortion is well known. You seem to have been particularly public in your views on that, attending a rosary shortly after you arrived here, anti-abortion rosary. Your thoughts on that? How much of an issue is that going to be as part of your agenda?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
For me it's very significant that the way God entered our world as a human being was in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He came as a tiny unborn child. For that reason, we cannot have a close commitment to Christ, it seems to me, without having a commitment to the unborn child. I go to abortion clinics, because for me, that's the closest thing to Calvary in 2004. This is where an innocent victim is being killed, and I think I need to go there in order to be part of the mystery of Christ today and to pray there for an end to this great evil that's happening in our society.

>> José Cárdenas:
Your views of the Governor's veto of the 24-hour waiting period?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I was very disappointed, and I was very saddened. I have worked with a number of women who have had abortions, and to provide healing for them. I've met and visited several times with Norma McCorvey who was Roe of Roe versus Wade. These women tell me that they deeply regret that they had abortions, if they had had more time to think about it, if they had been given information, for one of the most important decisions they will ever make in their lives, they would have made a different decision. I think it's unfortunate that we don't have 24 hours provided for women in those very difficult situations to consider this before they make the decision.

>> José Cárdenas:
Bishop, the Diocese, particularly the conference of bishops, has taken a very strong stand also against the death penalty. Do you expect to pursue that actively here in Arizona?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I do. The dignity of each human person has to be of great interest to us in the church. Even a person who has committed a very grave evil remains a human person made in the image of God. And I agree with John Paul II's assessment that it's not needed to take the life of a convicted criminal in order to protect society. They can be kept in prison for the rest of their lives and society would not be threatened. So I don't think it's required for our safety, and I think that we should believe that it's possible, even for a hardened criminal through the grace of God to be converted and to live.

>> José Cárdenas:
Immigration is another very controversial topic in Arizona. What are your views on that?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
That's a very complex area, but I know from my dealing with this issue in Kansas, that a lot of the people who come to work in this country, especially those who come to work on farms and who come to work in construction, are badly needed by farmers and by construction people. The farmers that I talked to and the construction people I talked to said that they would not have enough good workers unless they had people who had come by immigration, sometimes not by immigration that was legal.

>> José Cárdenas:
Any thoughts on the Protect Arizona Now initiative that would deny benefits to people who don't have the proper documentation?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I don't know that in detail yet, but it's an area that I presently am trying to get to know better, because I think that we have to have a concern for each human person, including the immigrants who don't have papers.

>> José Cárdenas:
Bishop, one of the things you've done recently is you reinstated the ability to have mass in Latin, something that hasn't occurred in Phoenix in over two decades. Why did you do that?

>> Thomas Olmsted:
I did it for three reasons. I did it because our holy father, John Paul II, encourages us bishops to make it available, where there are a significant number of people who would like to participate in the Trinitine Latin mass. I also did it because I've received a large number of requests from people in the Phoenix area for the mass to be celebrated, and I did it because I would like to promote in all areas of our church reconciliation and unity, and I'm aware that there are at least five communities outside of the Catholic church who are celebrating the Trinitine mass and those people feel that's the only place they can go is outside the Catholic Church to a mass in Latin. I'm now hoping that they will now feel they can come back and be reconciled.

>> José Cárdenas:
It's the Easter season. A lot of people have gone to Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ" have you seen it?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I have not seen it yet. I hope to see it soon.

>> José Cárdenas:
One last question. You live in a rectory rather than a house, which most bishops do. Why is that?

>>Thomas Olmsted:
I did that because I don't know the priests of this Diocese. I didn't know any priests before I came, and living with four other priests, who are wonderful men, has made me feel very welcome and helped me to get to know the priests of the diocese.

>> José Cárdenas:
Bishop Olmsted, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte." Welcome to Arizona.

>>Thomas Olmsted:
Thank you very much.

>> José Cárdenas:
That's our program for tonight. Join us next Thursday for more in-depth coverage of issues affecting Latino community.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted: Phoenix Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church;

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Super Why characters

Join a Super Why Reading Camp to play, learn and grow

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: