The Most Reverend Michael Olson is bishop of more than a million catholics in 28 counties, many of those being Texoma counties, making up the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. He’s been an outspoken critic of the ongoing sex abuse crisis in the church, saying no one is above accountability, including the now former cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C. And like other diocese, Fort Worth diocesan clergy, workers and volunteers, go through extensive background checks and training, helping provide a safe environment for all catholics. And like other church leaders, Bishop Olson knows with the Rome sex abuse summit now over, many will be watching carefully to see when and how soon the results of the summit will be put in place.
Bishop Olson has been leader of the Diocese of Fort Worth for five years, being named bishop by Pope Francis in November 2013 and installed in January of 2014.
“My responsibility is based in my ordination promises, which is to teach, to govern and to sanctify,” Bishop Olson said.
Another obligation of a bishop is making sure the flock he shepherds stays safe. At the February Vatican sex abuse summit, Olson’s brother bishops and cardinals discussed what the church should or shouldn’t do going forward to end further sexual abuse by clergy. But in November, American bishops including Olson, had their chance to take action on their own; that was until the Vatican said: ‘Hold off.’
“My thought on that was simply that the Holy See wanted us to wait and make our contribution here in February, so that we would not go off alone as a nation, but actually exercise leadership among our other peers, because really in the United States, we’ve been ahead of this,” Olson said.
As to how effective the decisions and policies made at the summit will be, time will tell. The bishop understands the faithful and church observers have their doubts, as church leaders have failed in the past, not being transparent and even covering up sexual abuse committed by those who vowed to be an example of God’s love. Olson says going forward, being as transparent as possible is the aim.
It’s also a sensitive matter.
“Transparency has its limits. People don’t have a right to human resources. They don’t have a right to the privacy that’s required for transparency for victims, safety for victims. There are limits to this,” Olson said.
Helping Olson spread the Gospel and guard the flock is Rev. Jonathan Demma, one of the diocese’s priests, recently appointed parochial administrator of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Wichita Falls. Demma says the church is still recovering, as are the victims hurt by clergy. And although the church has been criticized for its lack of action when it comes to abusive priests, Demma says the church is made up of good priests striving to do God’s will including himself.
“Who I am to the people is I need to be Christ. My responsibility is to bring them the sacraments and to do it as Father Jonathan Demma called by Jesus Christ in the mission of the church,” Demma said.
Having priests like Demma serving the church, Olson said, is one key to strengthening it.
“I wish peace and I wish growth. I wish a renewal in faith,” Olson said.
The bishop has another request, which he like so many others do daily.
“Continue to pray for me.”
And with God’s help, the Roman Catholic Church won’t let history repeat itself.
In his message during the final day of the sex abuse summit, Pope Francis outlined eight key points the church will focus on. The Diocese of Fort Worth’s policies regarding training, background checks and reporting allegations can be found by clicking here.