Spotlight: Unfit for Office

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  March 25, 2020   

On Bp. Michael Olson

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TRANSCRIPT

Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson is an alcoholic and a self-admitted homosexual, vengeful, troubled, so prone to rage he's even contemplated torturing and murdering a priest. That's the collective sum of multiple lawsuits and complaints laying bare a revolt against Olson's reign in the Texas diocese.

Emerico Perez: "He's like a bully, you know. If you don't agree with him, it's his way or the highway."

Vivian Wolf: "He gets angry like this; he just flips and he just ... ."

Yolanda Hendon: "He has hurt so many priests, so many parishioners."

Steve Knobbe: "This bishop is not capable of managing Fort Worth."

Ten lawsuits, both canonical and civil, brought by priests as well as laity — including a group of Catholics who want the bishop investigated by the Vatican and sent packing.

More than 1,500 letters are in Rome now insisting Olson be removed, and an anonymous survey shows a large number of Fort Worth priests also want him gone — all of the same mind: that Michael Olson is unfit for office.

Bishop Olson's behavior is so far off the charts that Catholics are asking the Vatican to investigate him for being "abusive of his office and divisive both among the faithful at large and within the clergy."

Among their list of grievances:

  • Verbal abuse

  • Angry speech 

  • Lying to lay faithful 

  • Unjust damage to priests' reputations

  • Demeaning conduct towards parishioners 

  • Referring to parishioners as "merely sheep" or "nasty people"

Diane Cluley: "He talked about how that priest should die and be tortured first."

Ninety-year-old Diane Cluley, in videotaped sworn testimony from one of the lawsuits, revealed disturbing information.

She was like a second mother to Bp. Olson, knowing him since his seminary days. She's now among those who think he's unfit for office.

Diane Cluley: "He was a fearful, insecure young man."

According to her, Olson came from a troubled background, difficult relations with his father and mother, an unhappy man who struggled with drinking and self-esteem issues.

Olson turned to Cluley and her family for comfort and solace, coming over to dinner on a near-daily basis, staying late at the house, becoming close to Cluley's sons, calling her frequently on the phone to share his joys and his woes, and through the years inviting her and her family to visit him in seminary here and abroad.

Over the course of their friendship, Olson — whom she has been on a first-name basis with for years — admitted to her he struggled with alcoholism. 

Diane Cluley: "But see, when he told me that he was an alcoholic, well, that was ok."

Female Questioner: "When you say he told you he was an alcoholic, who told you who was an alcoholic?"

Diane Cluley: "Michael told me he was."

Female Questioner: "Michael told you Michael was an alcoholic."

Diane Cluley: "Yeah, that he was."

Olson also confessed to her his homosexuality.

Female Questioner: "Did he ever tell you he was a homosexual?"

Female Questioner: "Did he ever tell you he was a homosexual?"

Diane Cluley: "That Michael was? Oh yeah."

Female Questioner: "Ok, can you talk about that?"

Diane Cluley: "Well, that was on one of our trips. And it was, like I said, late at night, and when he told me that, I said, 'That's ok, Michael.'"

Female Questioner: "Can you as best you remember say what he told you about that?"

Diane Cluley: "He just — it was just a sentence."

But most disturbing to Cluley were those remarks about torturing and murdering a priest.

Diane Cluley: "He talked about how that priest should die and be tortured first."

Female Questioner: "I need you to describe the type of torture. Do you remember what he said?"

Diane Cluley: "Yeah. One was encased in concrete."

The comments were so upsetting they left Cluley in tears.

Diane Cluley: "He just sounded, I don't know, like somebody else was inside of him or something. ... But I was used to the cursing by then. I was used to the way he cursed priests and the things he said about them."

Their phone conversations began to dwindle after that, Cluley no longer able to deal with the angry outbursts and explicit language.

Diane Cluley: "It was like somebody who was possessed, you know, because this power corrupted him. He wasn't that way before. He was never that way. He was totally corrupted by this power."

While Cluley still loves him, she believes he's unstable and cannot remain bishop.

After Church Militant reported on these disturbing revelations, Bp. Olson was forced to respond with a public statement in January saying her claims were "salacious." He also called her a "vulnerable woman," implying Cluley was not of sound mind.

Her friends say the bishop is dead wrong — like Steve Knobbe, a local Catholic who's spent time with Cluley.

Steve Knobbe: "Totally disagree. She is in full sound mind. Perfect mental health. She is just a joy to talk with and be with all the time."

Also longtime friend Vivian Wolf.

Vivian Wolf: ""She's got it more together than anyone I know. And like I said, she gave a lot to him. And she is one of the best resources that we have to say, here was the guy he was, because I knew him so many years ago when he was first a seminarian, and here's who he is today."

Sources close to the situation have called Olson a sociopath for throwing his second mother under the bus. Important to note: Olson never actually denies any of the claims made by Cluley.

Wolf has had her own run-ins with Bp. Olson, who had her removed as a catechist at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Wichita Falls after she questioned him over his removal of her parish priest. 

Vivian Wolf: "But I thought, Man, what a hothead! Because he should've just calmly listened to my grievances, but he didn't. And then as I become more involved, I realized he doesn't listen to anybody's grievances."

After sending out a parish-wide email expressing her concerns, Wolf was removed as catechist, no longer allowed to teach or serve at the parish, causing her deep distress.

Vivian Wolf: "So I'm heartbroken over it. But I'm not going to back down."

And at San Mateo Catholic Church in Fort Worth, Yolanda Hendon was also on the receiving end of Olson's abuse, yelled at by the bishop when they engaged in a peaceful prayer rally outside church.

Yolanda Hendon: "They were elderly, the ladies that were there at the front of the Church. They were 70, 80 years old, and were in fact parishioners, had been parishioners. But what he was yelling at them was, 'Who are you? I don't know any of you. You are not from San Mateo, I've never seen you at San Mateo.' And you know, that was his tirade, and he was yelling at them, and they are still emotionally hurt from that."

Hendon spearheaded efforts to keep San Matteo open, the bishop and parishioners deadlocked in a canon law case still pending in Rome. 

She recalls the day her priest was forced to read the letter from Olson announcing her church's closure.

Yolanda Hendon: ""I don't know if you remember that you and Simon then started to move closer to him on the side thinking that he might be having a heart event or a stroke or something like this, and all it turned out to be was that he couldn't the paper that the bishop had said he had to read to us."

Fellow parishioner Emerico Perez claims, in addition to Olson's bullying, he lied about the reasons for their church closure.

Emerico Perez: "He said he wanted to shut down the church because of decline in attendance and failure to pay bills."

Christine Niles: "Was that true?" 

Emerico Perez: "No."

Clarifying they’d paid all their bills and were not in debt .. Perez agreed with others that Olson abuses his power.

Emerica Perez: "And he tries to put on this face that, oh, he's a really good bishop and all that. People don't know what he's really like."

And over in Prosper,  Texas, St. Martin de Porres Parish has been the flashpoint for perhaps the most notorious case of Olson’s heavy-handedness.

Steve Knobbe: "No one's going to believe you that Richard resigned on his own. And he said, 'Why? I'm the shepherd; all of you are the sheep.'"

Steve Knobbe, an engineer, was intensely involved in efforts in 2017 to fundraise for and help build the parish, led by their pastor Fr. Richard Kirkham. But within four months, Kirkham was gone, Olson never making clear why.

Steve Knobbe: "We have asked that ourselves and got no answer whatsoever from the bishop."

The situation eventually led to both a canon law case and a civil lawsuit filed against the bishop.

The genesis of the case: Kirkham had sent a letter to fellow priest Father Paul Iverson confronting him about an alleged sexual affair with a married mother in his parish. 

Iverson is a priest of the diocese of Dallas, at the time temporarily serving at Kirkham's parish.

The letter urges Iverson to stop the affair and end his destructive behavior, which also reportedly included drinking and drugs.

Instead of insisting on an investigation of Iverson, Bp. Olson punished Fr. Kirkham, suspending him, while recommending no action be taken against Iverson. 

Kirkham's attorney, Jack Walsh, sheds light on the reasons why.

Jack Walsh: ""And I think when Fr. Iverson realized that he was in trouble, he went to Bp. Olson and asked Bp. Olson to act on his behalf. That is my opinion based on what I know of the situation."

Among the court files is Walsh's summary of the case: "Father Iverson, who attended the Holy Trinity Seminary when Bp. Olson was the Rector of the seminary, was a friend and confidant of Bishop Olson. … Consequently, Bp. Olson was very protective of Fr. Iverson because he considered him a personal friend and confidant."

The summary continues, "After Fr. Iverson graduated from Holy Trinity to study at another institution in Texas, it has been alleged that Fr. Iverson would, on some occasions, return to Holy Trinity and stay in Bishop Olson’s room when he was there."

It goes on: "It has been alleged that Bp. Olson would often violate the rules concerning seminarians spending time in his room with the door closed."

Jack Walsh: "I think Bp. Olson acted impetuously. I don't think he thought the situation through. I think Fr. Iverson played Bp. Olson in this case, and I think Bp. Olson made a mistake of going too fast before he knew everything about the case."

According to the statement, restrictions were quietly placed on Olson by the seminary, which discouraged him from returning and fraternizing with seminarians. 

These restrictions were confirmed with a source inside seminary leadership with direct knowledge .. while the diocese claimed it was unaware of any such restrictions.

Jack Walsh: "We had heard that there were certain things that Bp. Olson had been reprimanded for in terms of how he interacted at the seminaries, and we were in the process of getting that information. But once we started to issue those subpoenas, that is when Bp. Olson's lawyers got as aggressive as possible. At one point during a deposition, one of the lawyers made the comment that, because of those subpoenas, Fr. Richard may never work as a priest again."

In response to Church Militant's queries about Fr. Iverson, the Dallas diocese confirmed they looked into the allegations, but Iverson and the woman involved denied them, the investigation ending there.

Follow-up inquiries from Church Militant seeking greater clarity from the diocese about the apparent lack of a broader investigation went unanswered. Church Militant's media queries to Iverson also went unanswered.

Knobbe, who's spearheading efforts to have Olson investigated and removed, also accuses the bishop of financial mismanagement.

Steve Knobbe: "The year that Bp. Olson removed all of those priests, the revenue was at its high point. This following year the revenue dropped $2.3 million, almost a 10% drop, and that is just a startling trend when the Dallas-Fort Worth area is experiencing massive growth year over year in population."

Then there's Olson's political track record in Texas, which Jim Graham, president of Texas Right to Life, is slamming.

Jim Graham: "Michael Olson is really the person who drives their political agenda, the tx cath conf. It has become solely a political organization."

Texas Right to Life has led the vanguard in fighting the Texas Advanced Directives Act - which has the full-throated support of the Texas Bishops Conference.

Jim Graham: "The Texas Catholic Conference canonically has no moral authority, but they've engaged heavily in politics. Bishop Olson is the person that's driving it, and specifically there's one issue that drives the bishops, and that is the Texas Advance Directives Act."

The law leaves the patient's life in the hands of what some call a hospital "death panel," which more often than not decides a patient's quality of life isn't worth continuing medical care.

Jim Graham: "Because of the way this law is structured, prisoners who have been found guilty of heinous crimes by a jury of their peers have more due process and more right to life than a little baby does in Texas."

Family is then only given 10 days to find another hospital willing to take in the patient — an impossibly short time that almost guarantees death.  

"I've sat in those rooms where they've said, 'Well, yes, we could continue that life, but' — in one case they actually said as the argument, 'Well, this woman will never be able to balance a checkbook.' And that was the argument for removing her life-sustaining care — not that she was dying, not that she was having systemic organ failure, but that her quality of life was too low."

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, with Olson as ringleader, has led efforts to support the law, even filing court briefs opposing the right of Baby Tinslee Lewis, currently on a feeding tube and ventilator, to live.

Jim Graham: "This again goes back to Bp. Michael Olson. She is residing right now in a hospital in his district. So everything is coming back to Michael Olson. He is the main person that has kept this law in place in 2015, 2017 and 2019. We could've reformed the law; increasingly the general public is aghast at what's going on, but Bp. Olson is making sure that that law is not changed, remains in place and that his hospitals and the hospitals around the nation have the power over life and death."

What's more, Olson spearheaded the public attack on Texas Right to Life in 2018, issuing a directive on behalf of the Texas Catholic Conference ripping into the pro-life group — even going so far as ordering the damning directive to be read aloud during all Masses from the pulpits.

But Olson had no problem allowing pro-abortion Democrat Congressman Marc Veasey to speak in one of his parishes.

Veasey has a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, consistently voting against measures to protect preborn children, including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would've protected unborn children who feel pain in the womb.

An anonymous survey of Fort Worth priests taken last year showed that, of the 25% who responded, the vast majority — three-fourths — believe Bp. Olson is should not remain in office.

Some clergy responded with comments, one of them reading: "Thank you very much for helping us priests and the people of God of the diocese of Fort Worth. I wish I could give more personal information, but I cannot out of fear of retaliation from Bp. Michael Olson, who has the power to destroy a person [and his] priesthood."

Vivian Wolf: "They are scared. They are so scared that Bp. Olson is going to take away their ministry. They don't want to do anything because they're scared."

While thousands have signed a petition asking the Holy See to launch an investigation, it remains to be seen whether Rome will act. 

Meanwhile, Olson puts on a happy front, acting as if all is normal — but Church Militant has learned he secretly fears he only hangs by a thread in the diocese, deeply worried Rome will remove him from office.

It's an outcome multiple Fort Worth Catholics are hoping and praying for.
 

--- Campaign 31877 ---

 

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