FORT WORTH, Texas (ChurchMilitant.com) - An attorney for Bp. Michael Olson of Forth Worth has threatened legal action after a lay group shared shocking testimony from an acquaintance of the bishop.
Church Militant reported last week on the testimony of Diane Cluley, who claims she was close friends with Bp. Olson for years, stretching back to when Olson was still a seminarian in the early 1990s.
Cluley said the power of being bishop got to Olson's head, according to the transcripts of sworn statements she made back in December 2018. She recalled him angrily cursing about priests during their discussions over the phone. In a particularly shocking revelation, Cluley described a conversation in which Bp. Olson talked about wanting to torture and kill a priest.
Bishop Olson's legal counsel pushed back hard after Cluley's full statements were published online by FRK Advocates — a group of laity who believe Fr. Richard Kirkham was unjustly removed from his parish by Bp. Olson.
Michael Anderson, an attorney representing Bp. Olson, contacted someone connected to FRK Advocates and threatened legal action if the statements were not removed from their site.
"You state as fact on the FRK Advocates website that the Cluley statements are part of a public filing in Denton County," Anderson wrote on Jan. 22. "That is absolutely false, and you know it. Even worse, you are well aware that Ms. Cluley's statements contain a number of verifiably false statements regarding Bp. Olson."
But FRK Advocates say Cluley's sworn statements were taken in December 2018, before Fr. Kirkham filed a civil defamation suit, and so "there was no civil defamation lawsuit through which to hold a deposition and invite another attorney."
Furthermore, FRK Advocates claim Cluley's statements were indeed part of the public record in Fr. Kirkham's lawsuit against Olson:
Since Dec. 3, 2019, both of these sworn statements have been publicly obtainable from the defamation case wherein the same attorney, Michael D. Anderson, is Bishop Olson's lead attorney. As part of the public record, anyone who follows the proper procedure can obtain the entire file of publicly recorded documents.
They also point out that Anderson's accusation of "verifiably false statements" is vague and undefined, since Anderson does not specify which parts of the testimony are "verifiably false."
In a public letter, FRK Advocates' canon lawyer Philip Gray reiterated that the Cluley statements were in the public record. Gray argued, "If the attorney's statements to the young mother were made in good faith, it would mean he did not find or read the Cluley statements in the large file uploaded to public record in December 2019."
Gray closed his letter by saying, "As you wait, please pray. Pray for the bishop. Pray for each other. Pray for the officials in Rome. Pray for me. I would be remiss if I did not remind you that I have always encouraged you to pray for the souls in Purgatory from Fort Worth."
"Anyone who wishes to join our effort," he noted, "is still invited to sign a mandate and add their name to the growing list of those who want a true pastor as bishop of Fort Worth."
Church Militant reached out to the Fort Worth diocese for comment on FRK Advocates' response, but received no reply by press time.
In comments to local news, Anderson called Cluley's claims "false and salacious," accusing Fr. Kirkham's supporters of manipulating Cluley and "taking advantage of an elderly woman."
But FRK Advocates say those who know Cluley recognize her as being of sound mind.
In December 2018, FRK Advocates launched an online petition calling on the Vatican to investigate Bp. Olson for widespread complaints about him abusing his authority, being verbally abusive to laity and violating canon law.
In the interview, he dismissed the petitioners as "a handful of people with their own agenda," and in the video message called them "a handful of unhappy Catholic people."
"People have a right to be critical," Olson said. "I don't think people have a right to slander or be destructive or say untrue things."
Among the specific complaints listed in the petition are the numerous resignations and removals of priests in the Fort Worth diocese.
Now, over a year later, the petition has garnered more than 1,500 signatures.