After only one year as head of the Diocese of Phoenix, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted has already made his mark. The local newspaper, The Arizona Republic, ran a feature of the bishop this week, highlighting his public commitment to Church teachings and his bold, no-nonsense leadership style.
The newspaper credited the bishop for having taken “a diocese in turmoil” and turned it around, inspiring hope and trust among the people. Bishop Olmsted succeeded Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien, who had resigned six months earlier and was facing criminal charges after fatally striking a pedestrian with his car.
The diocese had its fair share of clergy sex-abuse, and Bishop Olmsted worked at the problem, meeting with victims and presiding at a summit meeting about abuse.
Bishop Olmsted has also been uncompromising in the Church’s teachings about homosexuality and abortion, and in regulations for the mass.
The newspaper referred to how he disciplined priests who had signed a document for the inclusion of homosexuals in church life; prayed at the offices of abortion providers; and suspended four priests for several reasons, including the violation of church rules about the Mass, financial improprieties, and one sexual allegation.
The newspaper reported that while not all of the faithful appreciate the bishop’s leadership style – a strong shift away from that of Bishop O’Brien – many others have found a renewed sense of hope in the local church.
After all that, the bishop still has a lot in store for the 500,000-member diocese. He told the newspaper that in 2005 he plans to establish an order of contemplative and focus on youth, with an emphasis on Catholic education, including the establishment of a Catholic college. He also plans to change the organization of the diocese, update church financial policies, and formalize how parishes report to him.
Prior to arriving in Pheonix, Bishop Olmsted led the small diocese of Wichita in Kansas. He had also spent time studying and working at the Vatican.
First Things recently named Bishop Olmsted as one of several bishops who represent a new, bold generation of Catholic leadership.