Thomas Olmsted

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The Most Reverend
Thomas James Olmsted
Bishop of Phoenix
Church Roman Catholic
Archdiocese Sante Fe
Diocese Phoenix
Appointed November 25, 2003
Installed December 20, 2003
Predecessor Thomas J. O'Brien
Ordination July 2, 1973
by Glennon P. Flavin
Consecration April 20, 1999
by Eugene J. Gerber, James Patrick Keleher, Fabian Bruskewitz
Personal details
Born (1947-01-21) January 21, 1947 (age 70)
Oketo, Kansas
Previous post Bishop of Wichita
Alma mater
Motto Jesus Caritas
Styles of
Thomas James Olmsted
Coat of arms of Thomas James Olmsted.svg
Reference style
Spoken style Your Excellency
Religious style Bishop

Thomas James Olmsted (born January 21, 1947) is an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He is the fourth and current Bishop of Phoenix. He was Bishop of Wichita from 2001 to 2003.

Early life[edit]

Thomas James Olmsted was born in Oketo, Kansas, to Pat and Helen Olmsted; he has two brothers and three sisters.[1] Raised on a farm in Beattie, he attended a single-room grade school and a small rural high school in Summerfield.[1] He then studied at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Denver, Colorado, where he obtained a B.A. in Philosophy in 1969.[1]


Olmsted was ordained to the priesthood on July 2, 1973, for the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska.[2] He then served as an associate pastor at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ until 1976, when he began his doctoral studies in Rome.[1]

Olmsted earned a doctorate in canon law summa cum laude from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1981, and served as an official in the Vatican Secretariat of State from 1979 to 1988.[3] During his time in Rome, he was also an assistant spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College.[1]

Upon his return to the United States in 1989, Olmsted was named both pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Seward and Promoter of Justice for the Diocesan Tribunal.[3] He later became Dean of Formation (1993) and President-Rector (1997) at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio.[1]

Episcopal career[edit]

Bishop of Wichita[edit]

On February 16, 1999, Olmsted was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Wichita, Kansas, by Pope John Paul II. He received his episcopal consecration on the following April 20 from Bishop Eugene Gerber, with Archbishop James Keleher and Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz serving as co-consecrators, at the Century II Convention Center.[2] He selected as his episcopal motto: Jesus Caritas, or "Love of Jesus", the name of the priestly fraternity, founded by the Blessed Charles de Foucauld, to which he has belonged since 1974.[4] He succeeded Eugene Gerber as the seventh Bishop of Wichita upon Gerber's retirement on October 4, 2001.[2]

Bishop of Phoenix[edit]

Olmsted was later named the fourth Bishop of Phoenix on November 25, 2003. Formally installed on December 20 of that year, he replaced Bishop Thomas O'Brien, who resigned after being arrested for his involvement in a fatal hit-and-run car accident.

  • During the 2008 presidential election, Olmsted declared a candidate's position on abortion to be the most important consideration for voters, stating, "When it comes to direct attacks on innocent human life, being right on all the other issues can never justify a wrong choice on this most serious matter."[5]
  • On February 12, 2006, Olmsted denied communion to a 10-year-old autistic boy. In a letter to the boy's family, Olmsted stated that the boy could not receive Communion until he could "actually receive the Eucharist, actually take and eat."[6]
  • In 2008, after the diocese had spent several million dollars to settle about 20 lawsuits, Olmsted led an initiative to shield diocesan assets from further sex abuse claims by incorporating local parishes individually.[7]
  • On September 12, 2008, Olmsted released a YouTube video[8] urging Arizona voters to vote for Proposition 102, a referendum to amend the Arizona constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
  • From January 2008 to February 2009, he was Apostolic Administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, acting as that diocese's interim leader until the appointment of James S. Wall.[2]
  • On March 8, 2010, Olmsted, as Bishop of Phoenix, joined in signing a letter with two other bishops of Arizona in expressing concern over Arizona SB 1070 indicating that if passed it might instill fear in those illegal immigrants who are victims of crime and deter them from going to the police out of fears of deportation.[9]
  • On March 10, 2009, Olmsted spoke against President Barack Obama's decision to reverse restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, saying, "American taxpayers will now be paying for the killing of human beings at a very early stage in their lives (as embryos), so that scientific research can make use of them for experiments that may or may not yield positive results."[10] He also referred to embryonic stem cell research as "homicidal research".[10]
  • In March 2009, the Bishop criticized the University of Notre Dame for selecting Obama as the commencement speaker for its graduation ceremony and awarding him an honorary doctoral degree, calling the choice a "grave mistake." Olmsted said that Notre Dame's actions went against a previous decision of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in their June 2004 Statement “Catholics in Political Life”: "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."[11]
  • Under Olmsted's tutelage, the Diocese of Phoenix researched and cataloged an index of its clergymen accused of sexually abusing children and released some of their identities to the public. The Diocese put out a list of sexually abusive clergymen on its website. Joe Baca, the Phoenix director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests stated: "It's the right thing to do and I've got to give them that much. They need to use these names to help victims to come forward. But you know, there's still more they can do."[12][13]

Sister Margaret McBride excommunication controversy[edit]

In May 2010, Olmsted declared that Sister Margaret McBride who served on the ethics committee of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, was automatically excommunicated after permitting an abortion at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. McBride allowed doctors to perform an abortion on a mother of four who was 11 weeks pregnant and suffering from pulmonary hypertension. Hospital doctors had estimated that the woman's chance of dying if she continued the pregnancy was "close to 100 percent".[14][15]

McBride has been accused of permitting a "direct abortion," which according to the Catholic Church's position is always wrong.[16] The Diocese of Phoenix stated that she was excommunicated because “she gave her consent that the abortion was a morally good and allowable act according to Church teaching" admitting this directly to Bishop Olmsted. "Since she gave her consent and encouraged an abortion she automatically excommunicated herself from the Church.”[17][18]

As a result of the above case, and because hospital management would not refuse to perform similar abortions in the future, Olmsted announced on December 21, 2010, that the Diocese of Phoenix was severing its ties with St. Joseph's Hospital in mid-town Phoenix and that the facility could no longer be called "a Catholic hospital".[19] Olmsted is attempting to work with the hospital to help them fulfill requirements of self-identified Catholic institutions.[17] In order to return to full communion with the Catholic Church, McBride would need to admit and confess her sin to a priest through the Sacrament of Penance. As of December 2011, McBride had reconciled with the Church and was considered in good standing.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Biography of Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted". Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Bishop Thomas James Olmsted". [self-published source]
  3. ^ a b "Monsignor Thomas Olmsted is Named Coadjutor Bishop of Wichita". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 1999-02-15. 
  4. ^ "Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted Coat of Arms". Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. 
  5. ^ Denogean, Anne (2008-10-23). "Tucson Catholics get mixed messages on voting for pro-choice candidates". Tucson Citizen. 
  6. ^ Clancy, Michael (2006-04-06). "Church Denies Communion to Autistic Boy". The Arizona Republic. 
  7. ^ Clancy, Michael (2008-02-02). "After costly sex-abuse claims, diocese moves to shield assets". The Arizona Republic. 
  8. ^ Olmsted, Thomas (2008-09-12). "Diocese of Phoenix Position on Proposition 102". YouTube. 
  9. ^ Arizona Catholic COnference: " Arizona Bishops Express Concern About Legislation Targeting Undocumented Migrants" March 8, 2010
  10. ^ a b Olmsted, Thomas (2009-03-10). "What should science trump?". The Catholic Sun. 
  11. ^ Catholic News Agency: "Bishop of Phoenix accuses Notre Dame president of disobeying U.S. bishops" March 26, 2009
  12. ^ Phoenix New Times: "Catholic Diocese of Phoenix Names Clergy Pervs on Revamped Website" Jun. 15 2011
  13. ^ Diocese of Phoenix: "Community Notification Statements" retrieved June 15, 2011
  14. ^ Hagerty, Barbara (2010-05-19). "Nun Excommunicated for Allowing Abortion". National Public Radio. 
  15. ^ Catholic Healthcare West - St Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center Statement on Bishop Olmsted Announcement - Frequently Asked Questions
  16. ^ Catholic News Agency: "Sister violated more than Catholic teaching in sanctioning abortion, ethicist says" May 19, 2010
  17. ^ a b Catholic News Agency: "Catholic sister told Phoenix bishop abortion was allowed by Church teaching" May 18, 2010
  18. ^ Diocese of Phoenix: "Questions and Answers Re: the Situation at St Joseph's" May 18, 2010
  19. ^ Olmsted, Thomas (2010-12-21). "St. Joseph's Hospital no longer Catholic" (PDF). Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. 
  20. ^ Gilbert, Kathleen (December 13, 2011). "Phoenix nun that OKed abortion no longer excommunicated, says hospital; diocese mum". LifeSiteNews. Retrieved August 25, 2013. 

Episcopal succession[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Eugene John Gerber
Bishop of Wichita
Succeeded by
Michael Owen Jackels
Preceded by
Thomas J. O'Brien
Bishop of Phoenix