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Friday, March 7, 2014

Who Is Bishop Michael Olson?

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Video Broadcast Introduces Bishop Olson In His Own Words

On November 19, 2013 Pope Francis appointed Msgr. Michael Olson as Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth. As the Dallas Diocesan newspaper reports:


Bishop-elect Olson earned bachelors and masters degrees in philosophy in 1988 and 1989, respectively, from the Catholic University of America. He also has degrees (M.Div. and M.A.) in theological studies from the University of St. Thomas in Houston…On May 6, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI granted him the Papal Honor of Chaplain to His Holiness with the title of “monsignor.”  In March 2011 he successfully earned his doctorate in moral theology at the Academia Alfonsiana in Rome…He was a member of the formation faculty at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston and lectured at the University of St. Thomas School of Theology between 2001 and 2006.  From July 2006 through June 2008 he served in the Diocese of Fort Worth as vicar general and as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church.  Since July 1, 2008, he has been serving as the rector of Holy Trinity Seminary.[1] 

Thus, as far as credentials go, Bishop Olson may be near the top of his class of bishops in knowledge and study of Catholic theology.  In addition, Bishop Olson has not only been a student of theology, but a teacher. As a monsignor, Fr. Olson lectured on theology at the university level for five years. Even more, he was entrusted with the position of rector at the diocesan seminary, responsible for the theological formation of dozens of future priests in the Fort Worth area.

As most readers know, Bishop Olson made headlines recently when he wrote a letter to the President of Fisher-More College, forbidding the Traditional Mass on campus.  Further, Bishop Olson explicitly stated he was taking this action, at least in part, for the sake of the President’s soul.  Thus, besides the canonical questions, Catholics today are faced with a more serious question. How is it possible that Bishop Olson, possessing such a vast theological education at prestigious Catholic institutions, believes the Traditional Mass, an immemorial and sacred Rite of the Church, can, in any way, serve as a detriment to someone’s soul?

The answer may lie deeper than preferences regarding liturgical rites, personality conflicts and whether certain priests have faculties. When Traditional Catholics converse and think about matters of faith, they do so with a Traditional Catholic understanding of what faith is, what the Church is, and what salvation is. They often assume that others in the Church today, especially conservatives, share these foundational beliefs. Thus while Traditionalists may disagree with conservatives on this or that issue, it is assumed that central core terms and tenets are shared from which a discussion can occur.

Yet, as we know, conservatives will often change their perspectives, to a greater or lesser extent, depending upon who is in the Chair of Peter. Thus we have seen the same conservatives who previously believed Communion in the Hand to be a sacrilege, defend it after Paul VI allowed the practice. We have also seen the same about face in their camp with regard to female altar servers under John Paul II.

Now enter Pope Francis. Eager to get back to the way things were with a most popular Pope, many conservatives are starting to sound foreign to Traditional Catholics. New terminologies and expressions are being used by conservatives previously reserved for more liberal and progressive clergy such as Cardinal Kasper and Hans Kung.

In addition Pope Francis has taken heavy handed and unprecedented disciplinary action against the Traditional members of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FFI) by denying them the right to say the Traditional Mass. Further, the current Pontiff never seems to tire of tossing out pejorative terms, such as “neo-pelagian” and “promethean”, to describe Traditional Catholics. In this atmosphere, is it any wonder that conservative Catholics who want to emulate the Pope, are beginning to grow more hostile to Tradition?

In addition to Pope Francis, there has been another prelate gaining notoriety recently; the Pope’s foremost advisor, Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga. Just last year, shortly before Msgr. Olson’s appointment to the See of Fort Worth, the Cardinal spoke at the nearby University of Dallas. This is the university where seminarians would study theology when Msgr. Olson was rector. Perhaps Msgr. Olson was there that day, I’m not certain. What I am certain of is what Cardinal Maradiaga said:

The Second Vatican Council was the main event in the Church in the 20th Century. In principle, it meant an end to the hostilities between the Church and modernism, which was condemned in the First Vatican Council.

I have previously addressed the Cardinal’s statement, along with the rest of his speech at length here. [2]  In a nutshell, Cardinal Maradiaga’s speech was a rehabilitation and open recitation of Modernist principles. Ideas that were once believed to be long dead in the Church appear to be making a comeback. Some of these ideas include a Modernist conception of faith, of doctrine, and of dogma.

As Pope St. Pius X taught us in Pascendi, the Modernist denies Catholic teaching that faith is a divine virtue by which we firmly believe the truths that God has revealed. Instead, faith, for the Modernist, always begins with an “experience” of God. As St. Pius X explains:

 …For the Modernist believer…it is an established and certain fact that the reality of the divine does really exist in itself and quite independently of the person who believes in it. If you ask on what foundation this assertion of the believer rests, he answers: In the personal experience of the individual…They assert, therefore, the existence of a real experience, and one of a kind that surpasses all rational experience…It is this experience which makes the person who acquires it to be properly and truly a believer. How far this position is removed from that of Catholic teaching!

The next step, for the Modernist, is to turn this personal religious experience (faith) into doctrine.  This is done by sharing one’s experience with others who have had a similar experience, thus forming certain truth statements (doctrine) to reflect these experiences. As Archbishop Lefebvre explained in his commentary on Pascendi:

The believer makes his personal experience of faith, then he communicates it verbally to others, and in that way religious experience propagates itself. Once the faith has become common or, as one says, collective, the need is felt to combine together in a society to preserve and develop the common treasure…

From the sphere of religious feeling we pass to that of the intellect, which proceeds to elaborate the basic dogmas: since man is endowed with intelligence, he has a need to think out his faith. He creates formulas, which do not contain absolute truth but only images or symbols of the truth. Consequently these dogmatic formulas are subject to change, they evolve. “Thereby the way is open for substantial changes in dogmas.”

The formulas are not simply theological speculations, they have to be living to be truly religious. Man’s feeling for religion, religious sentiment, needs to assimilate them “vitally.” “Living the faith” is a current phrase. [3]

Thus, in summary, we can say that the Modernist conception of faith begins with an internal “experience” of God. The believer then dialogues with other believers who have had a similar experience. Believers then reflect on their experience and propose certain truths or “doctrines.” However, these doctrines are never static. They must grow and change to adapt to the corresponding “living experiences” of the believer. So what does all of this have to do with Bishop Olson?

In addition to the biographical information mentioned previously, another item of information was also mentioned regarding Bishop Olson:

He also is a regular panelist on the syndicated and ecumenical television show American Religious Town Hall Meeting broadcast nationally on select television stations. [4]

Past broadcasts of American Town Hall Meeting can be found here. Watching these videos serves as a reminder as to why the pre-conciliar Church severely restricted and discouraged Catholic participation in ecumenical dialogue.

In these broadcasts, Msgr. Olson is seated at a table along with five ministers of various Protestant denominations, and sometimes a Rabbi. A moderator, usually also a Protestant minister, presents a topic to be discussed and each participant gives commentary on the topic before issuing a closing statement. From the start, the very format of the show assumes that the Catholic Church is on the same level as Protestant denominations as regards truth. Each denomination gives their view on the issue at hand including Msgr. Olson who gives the Catholic view.

Despite the fact that numerous heretical statements regarding faith and morality are presented during the broadcast, Msgr. Olson neither issues any corrections nor claims that erroneous views just presented are in error. Perhaps the format does not allow it. Either way, the viewer of these broadcasts is left with the clear impression that all participants on the panel are simply giving opinions, any one of which could be true or false. The fruits of these discussions, like the fruits of all ecumenical dialogue, are that those in error on the panel remain confirmed in their error, while those watching at home imbibe a spirit of indifferentism and moral relativism.

Nevertheless, since Msgr. Olson presents what he believes to be the Catholic viewpoint on these theological issues, the series provides a good opportunity to examine just what Bishop Olson’s theological positions are and if they provide any insight as to the actions he took regarding the Traditional Mass. The following video clip is from the most recent March 3, 2014 broadcast of American Religious Town Hall. The clip can be viewed in its entirety here.[5]   Remembering our discussion on Modernism, Msgr. Olson’s closing in this broadcast becomes especially relevant:

In addition, Msgr. Olson made the following comments regarding the Catholic position on Hell during the August 19, 2013 broadcast, which can be viewed in its entirety here.[6]

Further, on the January 20, 2014 broadcast, which can be seen in its entirety here[7] , Msgr. Olson gives a rather unique interpretation of the Catholic dogma “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” (Outside the Church No Salvation). So unique, that a Disciples of Christ Minister at the table felt it was important that we “retranslate” this doctrine in the manner Msgr. Olson expressed.

Like most conservatives, Bishop Olson seems solid on pro-life issues such as abortion and euthanasia.  Some have even pointed out that Bishop Olson is a “supporter of the Latin Mass in his diocese”, since thus far he has allowed the FSSP to continue their Latin Mass apostolates under his watch. 


However, considering the previous theological positions he has states, I think it is fair for Traditional Catholics to ask whether Bishop Olson and certain other prelates in the Church truly share the same foundational Catholic beliefs as they do. And if they do not, can the two opposing belief systems co-exist? Can criticism of Vatican II, described as a “pastoral” Council by Pope Emeritus Benedict, be tolerated in the post-conciliar Church? Or has the Council become for some prelates what the same pope referred to as a “superdogma?”


Does exclusive use of the Traditional Mass in a Catholic college represent the theology described by Cardinal Maradiaga and the positions just stated by Bishop Olson? Or does it rather reflect the theology of Trent and of Catholic Tradition?


From the persecution of the Traditional priests of the FFI, to the pejorative terms used against Traditional Catholics by the current Pontiff, to the public rehabilitation of Modernism by Cardinal Maradiaga, to the recent banning of the Traditional Mass at Fisher-More College, the trends seem to be heading in one direction.


Nevertheless, in order to end on a positive note of unity, I leave the students and faculty of Fisher-More College one final message from Bishop Olson that they can certainly agree with:









Read 13976 times Last modified on Saturday, March 8, 2014


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