Commentary: Give the Carmelites a voice in dispute with Bishop Olson

Bishop Michael Olson

John C. O’Shea’s apparent adulation of Bishop Michael Olson in his May 25 commentary provides no voice for Reverend Mother Teresa or the Carmelite sisters. If the goal was to not prejudice the issue, the commentary failed to achieve that goal.

If the fact that these are two religious leaders is set aside, and instead, this and other situations involving Bishop Olson and Reverend Mother Teresa are viewed through a best practices business model, it’s easy to see why this surreal event has engendered ongoing international attention.

While Bishop Olson’s “my way or the highway” leadership approach included removing access to the very mission of the sisters’ way of contemplative prayer and service, the sisters took steps to establish authority, attempted to work within the system, and made what seems to be humble requests such as the return of their private property and their access to Mass and the sacraments. When this failed, they saw no other option than the secular arena, something unheard of from a group such as the Carmelites, in order to protect their civil rights and business interests.

Best practices call for integrity, collaboration, creative problem-solving, and professionalism; businesses know that positive branding and public opinion are strong indicators of ongoing success. We have Reverend Mother whose order pervades the positivity of peace and prayer. We have Bishop Olson, the creator of a constant cloud of controversy. Ultimately, people vote with their feet as they weigh the actions of Reverend Mother Teresa and Bishop Michael Olson.

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The 800-pound gorilla in the room is nothing but this: Was there really an urgent need to “protect” the sisters by Bishop Olson personally entering the convent without permission? Was there a need to “protect” the public safety and common good by Bishop Olson in stating that it was his belief that a bedridden, elderly sister on a feeding tube, on meds, and in a wheelchair presented some sort of threat to the sisters or to the public? There’s simply no credibility here, and the public knows it.

Mr. O’Shea is just wrong when he states that Bishop Olson has a history of “doing the right thing.” The countless lawsuits, petitions, complaints, exodus of priests, employees, the revolving door of Catholic Charities CEOs, et al, regarding Bishop Olson’s actions since he became bishop are clearly documented.

While the litany of negative actions is listed on, readily available factual information lends credence to the instability of this business model which, ultimately, cannot be sustained.

When negative press hits our Fort Worth business community, it is well known that this type of impact has a broad reach as people make decisions to work here, to move here, and to worship here.

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The Fort Worth business community deserves better. The one million Catholics of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth deserve better. The National Catholic Reporter got it right in calling for an investigation of Bishop Olson back in 2022, “Houston we have a problem, and it’s time to address it.”

Elaine Schad is a retired school administrator and a lifelong member of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.