PHOENIX — Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, who has overseen the Phoenix Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church since 2003, submitted a request to retire to Pope Francis upon reaching his 75th birthday, the age limit for bishops, church officials said Friday.
The pope did not immediately act on the request that Olmsted submitted Jan. 21, his birthday, diocese spokesperson Katie Burke said.
“The pope may accept Bishop’s resignation at his leisure, and the Diocese of Phoenix will be in a time of prayer and anticipation while we wait the appointment of our next bishop. Bishop Olmsted will remain bishop of the diocese until Pope Francis accepts his resignation,” the diocese’s office said in a statement. “The next bishop may or may not be appointed at the same time.”
Olmsted is the fourth person to serve as the bishop of the diocese, which Pope Paul VI established in 1969.
“Bishop Olmsted has been just a wonderful shepherd to our diocese, particularly in the ways of serving the less fortunate,” Steve Zabilski, a lifelong Catholic and CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix, told KJZZ-FM.
In the mid-2000s, Olmsted spoke out about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and started biannual Masses dedicated to survivors, the Arizona Republic reported.
“This is a horrible scandal within the church, but also within the whole society. … We have a very deep obligation as the church to reach out to these people whether they’ve been abused by someone in the church or somebody else in society,” Olmsted said.
Olmstead in 2012 publicly released a list of clergymen in the diocese who had committed sexual abuse.
In 2008, Olmstead spoke in favor of a proposed state constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage. Voters approved the measure but a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015 legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
While bishop, Olmstead handled a controversy involving the excommunication of Sister Mary McBride after an abortion was performed at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix in 2009.
The case involved a seriously ill mother of four, suffering from pulmonary hypertension and 11 weeks pregnant. The pregnancy put additional stress on her heart, and hospital officials and doctors believed she was near death.
Olmsted decided to remove the Catholic status of St. Joseph’s after it permitted the abortion.
“It was a painful time,” Mike Phelan, the diocese’s director of marriage and family life, told the Republic. “These decisions were not lightly made. They were after a long series of dialogues. … Then bishop decided to remove the Catholic status of the hospital.”
A Kansas native who grew up on a farm, Olmsted was ordained as a priest in 1973. He served as the bishop of the Diocese of Wichita from 2001-2003.
Parts of Arizona are included in the Tucson and Gallup, New Mexico, dioceses.