Many East Valley Catholics reacted with surprise to the appointment of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted as new leader of the Phoenix Diocese, with some welcoming a fresh face and others hopeful he will move quickly to connect with church members.
The Rev. Chris Carpenter, pastor of Christ the King parish in Mesa, said Olmsted’s appointment was a true surprise.
"I had heard many names mentioned the last six months of possible bishops, at least a couple (of) dozen names, and his was never mentioned," Carpenter said.
He added that getting to know the bishop will be a learning process for him and almost every other priest in the diocese.
"I have yet to talk to someone who knows him," Carpenter said.
Mary Jane Benton of Scottsdale, regional representative of Call to Action, a progressive Catholic group that advocates social justice and church renewal, said she also hadn’t heard of Olmsted.
"I was a little surprised to find out it was him," Benton said. "I had heard a lot of good things about (the Most Rev. Gavino Zavala). He is Hispanic, and I guess we were just hoping it would be him, but it is still exciting to have a new bishop."
Mesa resident Doris Kilroy, a member of Queen of Peace in Mesa, said she hopes Olmsted is willing to listen and talk to members of the diocese in the wake of the scandal involving sexual abuse by priests and the fatal traffic accident that led to Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien’s resignation.
"He has a lot to work out in this diocese," Kilroy said. "There are multiple issues, starting with the Bishop O’Brien incident and the scandals that have happened."
Mary Douglas of Chandler, a member of St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Gilbert, said that given the recent scandals, it may be best that the new bishop is from outside Arizona.
"He comes with a clean slate, and he is fresh blood for the diocese," Douglas said. "A lot of prayers have been answered."
Carpenter said he saw Olmsted’s press conference Tuesday on TV and was
"He struck me as deeply spiritual and quite intellectual," he said. "These are great gifts that he is bringing to the diocese."
He said it is important that Olmsted speaks Spanish, which was demonstrated during the press conference, so he can communicate with the diocese’s many Spanish-speaking members.
"He will also need to look at the overall leadership in the diocese pretty early on," Carpenter said. "There are a lot of questions of leaders and their effectiveness."
Many agree that one of Olmsted’s main missions should be regaining trust.
"He needs to be concerned not just with the rules, but also with people," Benton said. "We need to know he cares and wants to be a shepherd and a servant, not a leader and a ruler."