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FORT WORTH, Texas (ChurchMilitant.com) - Disturbing details have emerged about Bp. Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, revealing what appears to be a dark side.
Church Militant obtained 1,800 pages of court documents in a defamation lawsuit filed by Fr. Richard Kirkham, a Fort Worth priest, against Olson. In the file is a sworn statement by one Diane Cluley, a 90-year-old woman who has been described as Olson's "surrogate mother," who took Olson under her wing when he was a young seminarian.
According to Cluley, Olson came from a troubled background, with difficult relations with his parents, exhibiting a great deal of insecurity and issues with self-esteem. In her effort to help him, she welcomed Olson into her home, allowing him to form close bonds with her sons. Olson was a frequent dinner guest, staying late into the night and spending a great deal of time with the family.
Cluley became something of a confidant to Olson, who frequently called her on the phone. According to her testimony, she said that while their relationship was fine throughout his seminary and priest years, he abruptly changed once he became bishop.
"[H]e became obsessed with his power," she said. His phone calls also became increasingly "violent."
According to her, Olson had a vindictive streak and frequently took out his anger on priests, in particular those he envied.
In one disturbing admission, she described a phone call in which Olson spoke about his desire to torture and murder a priest.
"[H]e talked about how that priest should die and be tortured first," said Cluley, to which the attorney responded, "I need you to describe the type of torture. Do you remember what he said?"
"Yeah," she answered. "One was encased in concrete."
She continued, "But he was so violent ... about that priest that I started crying because, you know, it was like at night and everything. And he just sounded, I don't know, like somebody else was inside of him or something."
It remains unclear who the priest is Olson was referring to. According to Cluley, the next morning, the bishop came to visit her and apologized for his comments. Even so, she became less and less comfortable with their conversations, which often included expletives and badmouthing priests behind their backs.
"I was used to the cursing by then," she said. "I was used to the way he cursed priests and the things he said about them."
Cluley described Olson as "possessed."
"I was afraid," she said. "It was like somebody who was possessed ... because this power corrupted him."
Cluley made clear that while she still loves Olson (whom she refers to as Michael), she does not believe he is emotionally or psychologically stable, and should not remain bishop of Fort Worth.
"He wasn't that way before," she said. "He was never that way. He was totally corrupted by this power."
Her words are echoed by a group of Catholics who have petitioned the Vatican to launch an investigation into Olson, with an eye toward removing him from office.
"Since his ordination as our Bishop in January of 2014, Bishop Olson has operated against canon law on numerous occasions, has employed abusive language and vindictive actions against priests and the lay faithful in our diocese," the petition reads. "He has lied to several faithful laity."
The petition sets forth a list of grievances against Olson, including:
Olson responded to the petition, dismissing the group as "a handful of people with their own agenda."
At least nine canonical cases are being filed by various individuals — priests and laity — against the bishop, including a canon law case involving Kirkham, in addition to his civil lawsuit.
Father Kirkham filed suit in 2018 alleging defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, after Bp. Olson reportedly forced him to resign as pastor at St. Martin de Porres parish under duress. Olson afterwards offered misleading comments to media implying that Kirkham may have been a threat to children, leading Kirkham to sue for defamation.
Kirkham had in fact been a whistleblower who exposed the wrongdoing of Dallas priest Fr. Paul Iverson, who was reportedly engaged in a sexual affair with a married mother. Kirkham sent him a letter urging him to end the relationship and asking that he seek help. Kirkham also made clear he would be reporting Iverson for his misconduct.
Iverson apparently turned to Olson for help. Both men have a long history, having met at Holy Trinity Seminary when Olson was rector. A close friendship formed, with Olson turning to Iverson as a confidant.
Instead of reporting Iverson to his bishop for the alleged affair, Bp. Olson punished Kirkham, removing him from his parish and ordering him to go to St. Luke's Institute, a scandal-ridden, priest rehab center whose former CEO was convicted and imprisoned for embezzling nearly $200,000 to spend on homosexual lovers.
"I don't think [Olson] has dealt with Fr. Kirkham in a fair way," said Jack Walsh, attorney for Kirkham, in comments to Church Militant in 2018, calling the bishop's conduct "rash and impetuous" and not "well thought-out."
Bishop Olson is currently taking part in his first ad limina visit with Pope Francis, along with 17 other bishops from Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Church Militant contacted Olson for comment but has received no response.
1/23/2020: This article was updated to reflect Fr. Iverson's status as a priest in the diocese of Dallas.