Saturday, January 30, 2010

Los Angeles Getting a New Archbishop (Part 2)

On Saturday Rocco Palmo announced on his blog that he has learned that the terma, the final three names submitted to Pope Benedict for the job of Shepherd of Los Angeles, includes both Hispanic and Anglo candidates. Palmo writes: "again, the demographics of the archdiocese are an immense consideration here, but so is the skill-set of a candidate given the Holy See's assessment of the place" ("Back Page" live discussion, posted at 10:27).

In the last post, I looked at the Hispanic bishops most frequently named in connection with this story. But what if it's not a Hispanic?

Obviously, if, as Rocco suggests, the pope is also considering Anglo candidates, the list of possible names becomes much longer.

One possible way to narrow it down a bit might be to look to bishops of larger dioceses. Obviously, given the enormous size of the LA diocese, it would seem Cardinal Mahony's successor is likely to be someone with experience running a large see.

We also might look at some of Pope Benedict's other appointments to high profile posts. In fact, church-watchers have noted certain trends in Benedict's episcopal placements:

1. Experience in Priestly Formation

One of the most pressing challenges facing many dioceses in the US (and for that matter those throughout the world) is that of an aging presbytery. Put simply, there is a crisis in vocations to the priesthood. According to the last study which was done, the average age of a Catholic priest in the U.S. is 60 (source). In many places, the situation is dire (see more statistics here).

Pope Benedict's concern for the state of the presbytery in the world has especially come to the limelight this year, which he has proclaimed as the "Year for Priests."

Because of this it should probably be no surprise that church-watchers have noted that Pope Benedict's top episcopal choices typically have an extensive history in priestly formation; many are even former seminary rectors (see, e.g., here and here). For example, Archbishop Timothy Dolan (New York City), the Holy Father's most high profile American appointment to date, was the rector the North American College in Rome. Likewise, Daniel DiNardo, whom the Pope named to the Houston diocese and even made a cardinal--the first cardinal ever from the American southwest!--also worked in a seminary: he served as spiritual director to seminarians at St. Paul Seminary. This is also true of the Holy Father's appointment to the Diocese of Detroit, Archbishop Vigneron. Archbishop Vigneron is the former Dean of the prestigious Sacred Heart Seminary. The new bishop of Omaha, Bishop George Lucas (yes, a different George Lucas!), also once served as a seminary rector and professor before becoming bishop. Still also, Dennis Marion Schnurr, recently appointed the coadjutor bishop of Cincinnati, had a reputation for his focus on priestly formation. The list goes on.

The trend, therefore, seems to favor the notion that the new bishop in LA will have had experience in training priests.

2. A Roman Background

If you look at many of the the major recent appointments in the United States you'll also note that the Holy Father often seems to look to men who have had experience working in Rome. I noted that Archbishop Dolan was not only a seminary rector, but that the school which he oversaw was in fact the North American College in Rome. We can also add that both Archbishop DiNardo and Archbishop Vigneron also have a Roman background. Archbishop Dinardo worked as a secretary to the Congregation for Bishops from 1986-1989 in the Roman Curia, while also teaching at the North American College. Similarly, from 1991-1994 Archbishop Vigeron worked at the office of the Vatican's Secretary of State, while also teaching in at the Pontifical University of the Gregorian. Still also, Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, the freshly minted bishop of Oakland, also served in Rome, working as assistant in the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura office. And while Bishop Schnurr never held a post in Rome--though he did study there--he did work closely with the Apostolic Nuncio and led the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL). One could say that while he did not work in Rome he at least worked closely with Roman representatives.

Why is experience in Rome helpful? Obviously, those who have worked in Rome--or with Rome as it were--are much better known to the decision-makers in the Vatican. Given that the Pope's other major appointments in the U.S. have fallen to men with a Roman background, we might expect to see a person with a Roman connection appointed to Los Angeles.

3. An Academic Background

Yet another characteristic of many of the bishops the Holy Father has recently appointed to key posts is that they often have an academic background. Pope Benedict, a scholar himself, tends to appoint people who have advanced degrees and/or are former seminary professors.

Again, consider some of the major appointments in the U.S.: Archbishop Dolan earned a Licentiate in Rome and a doctoral degree from Catholic University. He also served as a professor. Archbishop Vigneron also earned an advanced degree in theology and taught at a seminary. The same can also be said about Archbishop DiNardo. Bishop Cordileone and Bishop Schnurr has a doctoral degree in canon law. Bishop George Lucas (yes, a different George Lucas!), also holds an advanced degree (Church History) and taught at a seminary. Et cetera.

Some Speculation

The trends for major U.S. appointments then seem to favor someone with a history working in priestly formation, Roman experience, and an academic background.

In addition, note what Rocco said: ""again, the demographics of the archdiocese are an immense consideration here, but so is the skill-set of a candidate given the Holy See's assessment of the place".

Given all of this, there's one person who might get serious attention.

Before I go on though let me stress this: I am not weighing one bishop's strength and skills against another. Each have unique abilities. Any of the men I have covered here would make excellent shepherds. And there are many, many others I have not even mentioned.

But if we were simply to speculate based on the kinds of picks already made by Pope Benedict, there's one man who especially seems a likely contender. I, of course, could be wrong. Pope Benedict has much more prudence and knowledge about church affairs than I do. I am confident that he will pick the best man for the job.

Nonetheless, just for the fun of it, consider the following. . .

Bishop Thomas Olmsted (Phoenix)
Helpful sources:
--Bishop Olmsted's website at the Diocese of Phoenix
--"Bishop Thomas Olmsted," Catholic Sun

Bishop Olmsted, age 63, was born in Kansas and raised on a family farm on the Kansas-Nebraska border. He received his education at a one-room school house. He studied at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver and was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Lincoln in 1973.

The Catholic Sun reports, "Since 1974, Bishop Thomas James Olmsted has been a member of the Jesus Caritas fraternity of priests, and thus has been deeply influenced by the witness and wisdom of Charles de Foucauld and by the prayers and encouragement of many brother priests."

His personal page at the Diocese of Phoenix neatly lays out his career. It would be very difficult to reproduce his biography in a more readable way, so I'm going to simply reproduce it as it is laid out there.
1973 – 1976: First assignment as a priest: Associate Pastor at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ (Lincoln, Nebraska)
1976 – 1979: Doctoral Studies at the Gregorian University (Rome, Italy)
1979 – 1988: Assistant at the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, and Assistant Spiritual Director at Pontifical North American College (Rome, Italy)
1989 – 1993: Pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish (Seward, Nebraska)
1993 – 1997: Dean of Personal Formation at the Pontifical College Josephinum (Columbus, Ohio)
1997 – 1999: Rector / President of the Pontifical College Josephinum (Columbus, Ohio)
1999 – 2001: Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas
1999 – 2007: USCCB Committee on Priestly Formation
2000 – 2003: Board of Directors, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
2000 – 2003: USCCB Committee on Consecrated Life
2001 – 2003: Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas
2003 – present: Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona
2005 – 2007: USCCB Administrative Committee
2005 – 2007: Chair of USCCB Committee on Priestly Formation
2005-2008: Member, USCCB National Advisory Council
2008 – 2009: Apostolic Administrator of Diocese of Gallup
2008 – 2011: Member USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs
Bishop Olmsted has an incredibly impressive history. Let me highlight a few things.

First, Bishop Olmsted has experience dealing with immigration issues. As noted above, he has sat on the Board of Directors of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. Obviously, as I mentioned in part one, any Archbishop of Los Angeles would need to be knowledgeable about such matters.

Second, Bishop Olmsted has a deep commitment to priestly formation: he served as Assistant Spiritual Director at the North American College (a.k.a.: "the NAC"), he was Dean of Personal Formation at the Josephinum and then became the the Rector/President there, he served for many years on the USCCB's committee for Priestly Formation--he even became Chair of that Committee in 2005-2007!

Third, Bishop Olmsted has a Roman history.

Fourth, Bishop Olmsted has a doctoral degree in canon law.

Fifth, Bishop Olmsted has had a great deal of experience as a bishop running a large diocese, serving as the ordinary of both Wichita and Phoenix. In fact, both of these are large dioceses. In fact, according to the latest data, Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the United States! The list runs as follows: 1. New York, 2. Los Angeles, 3. Chicago, 4. Houston, 5. Phoenix, 6. Philadelphia, 7. San Antonio, 8. Dallas, 9. San Diego, 10. San Jose. It should be noted that Wichita (51), Bishop Olmsted's previous assignment, out ranks other notable cities such as St. Louis (52), Cincinnati (56), New Orleans (59), and Pittsburgh (60).

What is especially striking to me is that Bishop Olmsted was also appointed Apostolic Administrator of Diocese of Gallup for a short time in 2005. In a sense, he ran this diocese and Phoenix at the same time! This bishop is an administrator extraordinaire. Apparently, his skill in this area is known to Rome. After all, when Gallup suddenly found itself without a bishop, the Pope turned to Olmsted--even though he was already running the diocese in the fifth largest city in the U.S. which happened to be in another state!

Another thing we might add about Bishop Olmsted is that he is quite media savvy, something which might be important for the bishop running the diocese in which Hollywood is located. Bishop Olmsted used video media successfully to help promote donations to the Catholic Tuition campaign--an effort which brings a solid Catholic education to children in economically depressed areas. I'll let the Bishop tell you about it all:

That's just the tip of the iceberg! Bishop Olmsted has brought his media ministry right into people's homes via TV spots. That's right, the bishop got his message on the broadcast networks via commercials. Let me explain.

Last year the Catholic world was buzzing with the news about the television commercials that ran in the city of Phoenix, which were produced by the organization Catholics Come Home. Of course, now the effort has exploded and other cities have run similar campaigns. Yet it all started under Bishop Olmsted in Phoenix. The ads were very compelling--take a look (by the way, the YouTube quality doesn't do them justice):

Here's one called "Movie":

Here's my favorite:

And, by the way, when I say the effort exploded, I mean it. Catholics who had left the Church came back in droves. The initiative involved more than just TV commercials, but careful planning at the parish level. As a result of this incredibly well orchestrated and successful program, a shocking 95,000 fallen away Catholics returned to actively practice their faith. That's no typo: 95,000! Here's the full story.

Bishop Olmsted and the Diocese of Phoenix also partnered with Virtue Media to run some pro-life commercials which ran on major television networks. These ads, like the Catholics Come Home spots, were a huge success. Once again, I'll let the bishop explain:

Bishop Olmsted was also present for the launching of Immaculate Heart Catholic Radio (KXAM AM 1310) earlier this year. Incidentally, this fine station (here comes the shameless plug!) carries my own radio show, Reasons for Faith Live--which airs every Friday on the EWTN radio network at 2pm East Coast Time!

Bishop Olmsted is clearly a remarkable shepherd.

Could he be the next shepherd of the flock in Los Angeles?


Diane Korzeniewski said...

Denver Catholics are concerned they might lose Archbishop Chaput.

Diane Korzeniewski said...

Hmmmm....I'm assuming Chaput would be the first Native American to rise to the red-hat circle, if that were to happen?

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter to me which Bishop is chosen; they're all reps of Christ in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

One of the videos is down, but can be easily found by searching youtube for "Catholics Come Home EPIC". For example, right now this particular copy is better quality than some of the others:


Michael Barber said...


I can understand why people in Denver are concerned they might lose Chaput. He is certainly a major figure in the Church in the United States. Given what was said in the post above, it might also be noted that he has experience working in a seminary, he holds an advanced degree (M.A. in Theology).

Here's why I didn't mention him. Bishop Olmsted seems to "fit Benedict's mold" better. As far as I know, Archbishop Chaput has no Roman history. Also, and more importantly, the reports are that the list of the three names sent to the Holy Father is split between Anglo and Hispanic names.

Of course, anything is possible! And I'm NOT weighing bishops' qualities against each other. But just using Benedict's other appointments as a guide--and he could surely break the mold!--it seems to me that the people in Denver shouldn't be as concerned as the people in Phoenix.

Michael Barber said...

The video link is fixed. Thanks so much, "citizen".

Anonymous said...

Give 'em Burke, for a change of pace.

Gary said...

I live in Phoenix and as much as LA needs a man like Olmstead, I hope that we get to keep him. He is a great shepherd.

Unknown said...

The real questions for the successor, no matter who Pope Benedict appoints, are:

1. What will he do with the 'Yellow Armadillo'?

2. Does it involve high explosives?

TJB said...

PMcGrath, High explosives seems a bit much don't you think? A bulldozer should work just fine!

Unknown said...

Bishop Olmsted is a true blessing to our diocese and we would not like seeing him go - but he is also loyal and obedient to the Holy See.

A technical note, the Diocese of Gallup also has parts of Northern Arizona in its boundaries, and all of Northern Arizona was part of Gallup until the Diocese of Phoenix was created in 1969.

Andrea Brown said...

Living a few miles from the Los Angeles Archdiocese boundaries (Orange Diocese), I completely agree with your train of thought. Bishop Olmsted is a very holy man. He has taken on many challenges and ‘knows the ropes’. LA desperately needs someone who can lead in a very orthodox, loving and prudent manner. He’s an A+ choice in my book. May I also add, (it may not be relevant) that he has been friends with Archbishop Burke for almost 30 years. A thank you in advance to the people of Phoenix should he come to LA, and I will be praying for a good shepherd for your diocese.

Skysaw said...

Bp. Olmsted is the single greatest ordinary of in the Church in the United States. It is right and just that he should be the ordinary of her largest diocese.

If Bp. Olmsted goes to L.A., rest assured that the ecclesial identity of the Archdiocese will change absolutely beyond recognition over the next 12 years.

Chris said...

We in Wichita still hold Bishop Olmstead in our hearts. We loved him greatly, and have watched his holy and masterful leadership in Phoenix. No one better to mold the LA diocese!

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I'd love to see him, I pray for whomever it will be.