New Bishop: Abuse Allegations to Get Attention They Deserve

By Jacques Billeaud
Arizona Daily Sun [Phoenix AZ]
November 26, 2003

PHOENIX -- The newly appointed bishop of the scandal-ridden Catholic Diocese of Phoenix said he will give sexual abuse allegations against priests the attention they deserve.

Thomas Olmsted, the bishop of Wichita, Kan., will replace Bishop Thomas O'Brien, who resigned in June after a tenure that ended with allegations of abuse by priests and his hit-and-run arrest.

Olmsted was appointed Tuesday by Pope John Paul II as the leader of 430,000 Catholics in Arizona.

Olmsted said he knows little about sexual abuse allegations in the Phoenix diocese but that victims deserve apologies.

The diocese was thrown into turmoil in June after prosecutors announced an immunity deal with O'Brien that spared the church leader indictment on obstruction charges for protecting priests accused of child molestation.

Already facing heavy criticism for the deal, O'Brien resigned after he was charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident involving a pedestrian.

O'Brien, bishop of the diocese since 1981, didn't report the accident to police but told investigators he didn't realize he had hit a person. His trial is expected to begin on Jan. 12.

Since O'Brien's resignation, the church had been under the temporary leadership of Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan. Olmsted's installation as bishop of Phoenix is scheduled for Dec. 20.

The Rev. Richard McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame, said Olmsted must show that he wants to solve the diocese's problems and is open to all people.

The 56-year-old Olmsted has served in Wichita since 1999, first as coadjutor and then as bishop of the diocese.

He said the Wichita diocese, which covers the southeastern quarter of Kansas, had priests removed because of sexual abuse allegations. But he said the removals were made by his predecessor.

Bob Voboril, Wichita's superintendent of Catholic schools who has known Olmsted for 36 years, said Olmsted is a sound decision-maker who knows how to solve problems.

Olmsted, who speaks Spanish, also is familiar with issues affecting Hispanics, Voboril said. A quarter of Arizona's 5 million people are Hispanic

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