Bishop Olson addresses laity’s concerns regarding recent decisions
FORT WORTH — In a Dec. 14 pastoral message to all the Catholic faithful in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Bishop Michael Olson clarified the reality behind a string of recent pastoral decisions being used misleadingly by a group of dissatisfied Prosper-area Catholics.
The message, which comprises a video and pastoral letter, is available on the diocesan website (fwdioc.org). In it, Bishop Olson acknowledged that with a diverse 28-county diocese that has swelled more than 1 million Catholics comes the need for decisions “in keeping pace with the growth and development that we are experiencing.”
“I have made such decisions prayerfully, with consultation, and with an eye towards the greater good of all, while being mindful of the needs of the more vulnerable in our community,” he said.
“This January, I will mark five years as your bishop,” he said in the video. “During these five years, I have been entrusted to you as your bishop to oversee and to care for you pastorally. I have always made it a priority to provide a safe environment for you and to uphold the standards necessary for a clergy that will give you pastoral care that you can trust.”
In those five years, the diocese has seen two new parishes established, 12 men ordained as diocesan priests, a clearly defined program for fostering vocations, the continued strengthening of catechesis across the entire diocese, and a renewed focus on classical Catholic education in the diocese’s 19 Catholic schools.
In the aftermath of some recent difficult pastoral decisions, however, a handful of people “have taken it upon themselves to institute a social media campaign and political campaign based on their disappointment and unhappiness, to discredit me and my ministry and leadership as your bishop in the Diocese of Fort Worth,” he said.
The FRK Advocates, as they call themselves, began their destructive campaign after the resignation of Father Richard Kirkham as pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Prosper June 4. On Dec. 3, they circulated an online petition requesting a Vatican investigation into the diocese and Bishop Olson, creating discord and scandal.
In the pastoral statement, Bishop Olson clarified some of the misleading claims made in the FRK Advocates petition, including the following:
Fathers Gary Picou and Jeff Poirot. The FRK group claimed the decisions of two diocesan priests, Fr. Picou and Fr. Poirot, to abandon priestly ministry, were the bishop’s choice.
The bishop said they resigned their roles as pastors of their own accord and after their own discernment.
“I did not ask them to leave, nor did I force them out,” Bishop Olson said. “Many are saddened by their decisions. I am saddened as well. I pray for them, and I hope that through prayerful discernment, they decide to return to their priestly ministry.”
Father Poirot resigned as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Wichita Falls Nov. 2. Father Picou resigned as pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller Nov. 5.
Bishop Olson added, “I ask you to please pray for them as well.”
Closing of San Mateo Mission. The group claims the bishop operated against canon law when closing the Fort Worth mission in November 2016.
“The FRK Advocates have attempted to categorize the recent decisions regarding San Mateo Mission of St. Patrick Cathedral as an example of me not following canonical procedure. That is not true,” Bishop Olson said. “San Mateo Mission was never a parish. And while it is a church, it is a chapel or a mission of St. Patrick Cathedral.”
The bishop said those who were upset with the closure of San Mateo appealed the decision in Rome before the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy.
“The Congregation for Clergy heard their case and rejected their recourse and upheld my decision in understanding of San Mateo as not being a parish in itself — the point being they do have access to the canonical process, I respect their right to it, and the Holy See upheld my decision [twice].”
He added that he is “looking forward to a peaceful reconciling so that we can move forward as a parish community and a diocesan community.”
Father Genaro Mayorga. The group also questioned the removal of Fr. Mayorga as pastor of All Saints Parish in Fort Worth Nov. 5. The priest’s termination came after he was issued a Class C assault citation by Fort Worth Police.
“It came to my attention by Fort Worth police officers that Father had been cited in a public park at 2 a.m. for assault,” Bishop Olson explained. “That assault included the touching of a man in a private area [genitals]. It was reported by the man, and it was confirmed and written up as a citation.”
Bishop Olson said he personally met with the police officers involved, heard their “explicit concern for the community and parish,” and read the police report. “On that judgment, I contacted the religious superior of Father Mayorga and I asked that he be returned to his [religious order] community [in Mexico] for his pastoral care and for the good of all involved. That is the truth.”
Following the incident, the diocese “immediately and transparently” informed the parish of the decision at each of the Masses on the following Sunday.
“While I clearly followed protocol in requesting his recall from the parish as religious order priests serve at the judgment of the local bishop, I find it concerning that advocates would suggest that I should return Father Mayorga to ministry in our diocese after learning of the grave concerns expressed to me by the officers of the Fort Worth Police Department,” the bishop added.
Resignation of Father Richard Kirkham. The FRK Advocates have expressed anger about the resignation of Fr. Kirkham as pastor of St. Martin de Porres in Prosper.
The group claims Fr. Kirkham was punished for “whistleblowing” and “fraternally correcting” a priest of the Diocese of Dallas who was allegedly engaged in predatory sexual behavior against a vulnerable adult. Bishop Olson clarified he ask Fr. Kirkham to resign as pastor based upon several factors, including failure to report the predatory behavior and writing a lewd, intimidating, and threatening letter to the Dallas priest.
In May, Dallas Bishop Edward Burns notified Bishop Olson of the letter Fr. Kirkham had written to the Dallas priest.
“The letter was perceived by the priest who received it as intimidating and manipulative,” Bishop Olson said. “I read the letter and shared the opinion that it was lewd and threatening, and that it was not befitting of a priest.”
In the letter, parts of which were published by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram over the summer, Fr. Kirkham threatened to reveal the alleged sexual misconduct on the part of the Dallas priest.
“In the letter, which [Fr. Kirkham] admits to writing, he claims that he has known about this alleged sexual misconduct and predatory behavior against a vulnerable adult since October of 2017,” the bishop explained, pointing out that in all that time, Fr. Kirkham failed to report the misconduct violation to either diocese. In fact, Bishop Olson explained, Fr. Kirkham “admitted to me in the presence of witnesses that he never intended to report the allegations of misconduct” having written the letter out of anger in an “attempt to obtain the attention of the other priest.”
The diocese’s zero-tolerance Safe Environment policies require reporting sexual misconduct in all cases and notification of authorities for the safety of the victim.
“The notion that he is somehow a whistleblower, who is being punished for attempting to bring to light the sexual misconduct of another priest, is just simply untrue,” Bishop Olson said.
The prelate called upon the people of the diocese to remain grateful for the many advances taking place in the diocese, including growing involvement in lay ministry, the establishment of the new Cristo Rey High School at Our Mother of Mercy, and a nationally-recognized Catholic Charities.
He asked for prayers “for the priests of our diocese who work so hard to serve your pastoral needs,” for the “individuals who are unhappy or saddened” by the recent decisions, and “for greater unity and peace among us as one diocese.
“And, I ask for your prayers for me as your bishop that I might always strive to protect the sheep of God’s flock from both the wolves and the hirelings.”