Pastoral Letter Regarding U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Obergefell vs Hodges Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

Dear Friends in Christ,

Christ teaches us that we are always to love God and our neighbor. Our neighbors include every human person. Each human person is created in the image and likeness of God thereby establishing his or her basic human dignity. Thus, the manner in which we treat our neighbor is the manner in which we treat God. It is always wrong and sinful to deny deliberately any human being the basic rights inherent in their dignity as human persons. These rights have correlative responsibilities that connect us with each other as members of our common home. Such rights include the fundamental right to life, the right to basic health care, the right to an education required for participation in society, the right to own property as a contributor and participant in the common good of society, the right to exercise and to express one's religious faith, and the right to act in accord with one's well-formed conscience. These rights inherent in human nature and their accompanying responsibilities are known to us both through our faith and also through our natural reason.

In an attempt to redress real incidents of "animus" against homosexual persons' legitimate human rights to participation within society, the Supreme Court of the United States has articulated an attempted redefinition of marriage in its 5-4 majority decision in the case Obergefell vs. Hodges. The Court has done so based upon the "right to privacy," based in autonomy (self-law) and not in human nature.

This principle of autonomy, steeped in individualism, prevents us from grasping our natural connectedness to other persons in our common human nature including its distinctions of masculinity and femininity. As Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si, "valuing one's own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it."

The majority decision of the Supreme Court states that "the nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two people together can find other freedoms, in particular, the freedom of expression, privacy, and spirituality, regardless of their orientation." This statement within the majority decision introduces into law, without rational justification, a new and convenient definition of marriage as being ancillary to such relativistic and narrative-driven freedoms as expression, privacy, and spirituality.

This new definition ignores the essential qualities of marriage as indissolubility, fidelity, and openness to the natural transmission of human life through the procreative act shared by a husband and a wife. In so doing, the decision formally, socially, and legally changes our understanding of what objectively constitutes a marriage more than simply by allowing gay people access to the social good of a marital relationship. The decision more directly changes "opposite-sex" marriage from possessing objective qualities to simply being a means to finding other freedoms like expression, privacy, and spirituality in the name of "marriage equality." Thus, the decision's stated attempt to redress the injustices against homosexual people is ineffective.

The legal ramifications of the decision will offer us challenges to our religious liberty and to the moral and social equilibrium of our families. These are challenges that we can and will face within the Church and in our society with confidence in God's love for each and every human being. Yet, the decision will not change what the Church knows and teaches to constitute a marriage nor will it force us to celebrate ceremonies for same-sex couples. We must be humbly faithful to the Truth in Charity without fear to exercise our religious liberty in our public ministries and institutions.

I close this letter with a call for prayer for all who are affected by this decision. I ask for prayer for all of those homosexual people who have been hurt through actions of disrespect and even violence throughout our history and in current times. They are created in God's image and likeness and deserve respect and love. They are our brothers and sisters. They are members of our families. They are good friends, and baptized members of the Church. They share our common call to holiness and virtue including chastity. They have responsibilities to the common good. I ask that we pray for the wisdom to articulate the understanding of marriage's true nature with greater clarity as well as with stronger certitude. I ask that we pray for strength and perseverance for our Catholic married couples, that they might witness more clearly to their marital vocation by joyfully and gratefully living their promises of indissolubility, fidelity, and openness to God's gift of children. Their marital vocation is a sign of hope and confidence in Christ's unconditional love for His Bride the Church. Finally, I ask that we pray for docility and patience with each other in listening for the authentic voice of God as expressed through the Gospel and the teaching office of the Church. With prayers for peace and your happiness I remain.

Sincerely Yours in Christ,

+ Most Rev. Michael F. Olson, STD
Bishop of Fort Worth


Homily for the Priestly Ordination of Fathers Michael Greco, Keith Hathaway and Ronaldo Mercado

Photo by Donna Ryckaert

Homily for Priestly Ordination
May 23, 2015
St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Isaiah 61:1-3
2 Corinthians 5:14-20
John 20:19-23

The readings that our ordinandi have selected and that the Church has given us for today speak to us about reconciliation, anointing, and mission.

The very first verse of our Gospel reading taken from John offers us what is for most preachers at first reading a very awkward and challenging statement. It reads, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors, were locked, where the Disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.” This phrase, “for fear of the Jews,” stirs within us discomfort because of so many sad years of sinful rancor among Christians and Jews. We read it, we listen to it, and emotionally we would prefer to omit it, to avoid it, to overlook it, to explain it away, or even to deny it.

Yet, there it is, in the middle of an account of the Lord’s Resurrection. Instead of acting on any of these emotional preferences, let’s consider this phrase even more deeply in light of a fact that is easily and all too frequently overlooked -- the disciples who were locked away in fear were themselves Jews -- and they were afraid of their parents, their children, their sisters and brothers, their neighbors, and their fellow synagogue members; the very people who were closest to them in love and community. The disciples’ fear is compounded further by the shame of their own sins in abandoning Christ on Good Friday and failing in their fidelity to His mission.

It is precisely in the middle of this shame, this fear, and this division that Jesus appears and wishes the Disciples peace. As prophesied in our first reading from Isaiah, Christ, the anointed One, liberates the Disciples from their captivity to shame and sin -- and manifests the Good News of forgiveness. Jesus then shows the disciples His wounds -- His hands, and His side. These are not the bloody wounds of Good Friday — steeped in shame and the results of their own sinful selfishness -- these are the wounds of Easter -- glorified, redeemed, yet real wounds of a sacrifice made in love. The Disciples rejoice. Jesus wishes them peace a second time, gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit, and sends them on His mission of forgiveness and reconciliation.

My dear sons, today, you are to be ordained priests. Your hands are to be anointed with the anointing of Christ -- your hands thus become His wounded hands – glorified -- to celebrate the Eucharist, to baptize, and to absolve sinners, to anoint the sick, and to bless the vows of the married. Today, through your ordination as priests, you receive the same Holy Spirit to carry out this mission of reconciliation and forgiveness entrusted to you by Christ. To be faithful to this mission entrusted to you by Jesus -- you must never omit, avoid, overlook, explain away, or even deny the scandal of division and suffering caused by sin. You must address it with the fullness of the truth in light of the mercy of God fully revealed in the glorified wounds of Christ -- the wounds in His hands -- that are now your hands -- through the anointing of this sacrament of Holy Orders. As Pope Francis recently stated, the “path to our encounter with Jesus – God are His wounds. There is no other [path].”

Through your ordination, you are given the Holy Spirit by Christ -- who provides you with the capacity to speak the Truth and to speak it well. Listen to Him. Most especially, in the confessional when penitents approach you with their anguished wounds of sin -- Christ enables you as His priest to manifest the full truth of His redemption and forgiveness of their sins -- by kindly revealing the utter powerlessness and futility of their sins in the face of Christ’s unconditional love and mercy. Through your encouragement and absolution, Christ glorifies their wounds caused by sin -- and reconciles penitents to God and to their neighbor, thereby liberating them from their captivity and slavery to fear of those whom they are called to love.

This mission of reconciliation extends beyond the confessional to your daily life and ministry as priests. Your priestly ministry includes that you be agents of reconciliation and healing for those wounded by sin within our society, among our families, within our parish communities, among your brother priests, and throughout the world. This mission is Christ’s gift to you -- not your gift to Him -- never cease to thank Him -- and ask our Blessed Mother to assist you with her prayers.

Photo by Juan Guajardo

North Texas Catholic Articles:


Bishop Olson Urges State Law Changes

Bishop Michael F. Olson, in a letter to the House State Affairs Committee urges passage of House Bill 3074 by Representative Drew Springer that would correct the most glaring flaw in the Texas Advanced Directives Act by requiring nutrition and hydration to continue after ethics committee review unless it is harmful to the patient.

Printable Version

April 15, 2015

House State Affairs Committee
Texas Capitol
Austin, Texas

Dear Chairman Cook and Committee Members,

I had hoped that I would have been able to be in Austin on Wednesday to testify on House Bill 3074 by Representative Drew Springer that would correct the most glaring flaw in the Texas Advanced Directives Act by requiring nutrition and hydration to continue after ethics committee review unless it is harmful to the patient. Unfortunately, I am officiating confirmation mass at a parish in my Diocese and am unable to testify—hence this letter. However, I can speak on behalf of my brother bishops in the Texas Catholic Conference in urging the State Affairs Committee pass this bill. The Texas Bishops have sought reasonable reform of the Texas Advance Directives Act for more than a decade, and this measure—while incremental—takes a significant step forward.

First, I want to address the nutrition and hydration issue from a Catholic moral position. We use the terms “ordinary” and “extraordinary” to distinguish the medical treatments that one is obligated to use in order to preserve their life and those that one can in good conscience reject. Sometimes the terms proportionate and disproportionate are also used to convey those means that are morally required vs. those that are optional. There is no laundry list of treatments that are always ordinary and obligatory because circumstances can be important factors in determining the morality of the action.

Treatment decisions should be based on whether or not the expected benefit of the treatment outweighs the burden to the patient, and Representative Springer’s bill takes this into account. Some claim that the bill still allows quality of life decisions, but they are wrong. The criteria in this bill reflect an assessment of the quality or effectiveness of the treatment, not the quality of life for the patient.

This assessment of effectiveness includes the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration. The position of our opponents fails to recognize both the reality of experience and the Church’s teaching. In rare cases there comes a point when even artificially administered nutrition and hydration may be morally withdrawn.

Saint John Paul II taught that the use of artificially administered food and hydration is in principle considered ordinary care because food and water are basic necessities due to all human persons. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith further clarified that while this is true, there can still come a point in the dying process when food and water can be withdrawn because their use is “excessively burdensome for the patient or [would] cause significant physical discomfort.”

For instance, as a patient draws close to inevitable death from an underlying progressive and fatal condition, certain measures to provide nutrition and hydration may cause such serious medical complications that they are therefore not obligatory in light of their very limited ability to prolong life or provide comfort.

As a Catholic Bishop, I speak with clarity, resolve, and compassion. It is my responsibility to trust God’s Grace given to me to speak in this voice with avoidance of division and confusion. The Catholic voice in the pro-life world does not view death as the ultimate enemy.

As you are aware, some organizations who identify themselves as being pro-life have misrepresented the Catholic or pro-life position as opposing this legislation because it allows for the removal of nutrition and hydration when such procedures would have no medical benefit and could be needlessly torturous. Such an approach reacts to one extreme that imposes the refusal or withdrawal of basic care by imposing a contrary extreme that demands burdensome procedures without medical benefit in the effort to prolong dying. Each extreme approach fails to respect the legitimate ethical judgment and decision-making of family members to be exercised prudentially on behalf of their incapacitated loved ones. Their position has been that patients, or their surrogates in the case of incompetent patients, have absolute autonomy to demand medical interventions that may be ineffective or even harmful to the life of the patient. This is a distortion of Church teaching. Accepting that a person is dying and withdrawing ineffective interventions is not euthanasia or suicide; instead, it recognizes the essential dignity of man as created by God and returning to Him at the end.

As a bishop I state that this reaction is not consistent with Catholic teaching regarding legitimate care for dying and terminally ill persons. Those who make claims to the contrary are misrepresenting the Church and causing division through fostering distrust of the integrity of the authentic pastoral teaching of the bishops in Texas as articulated through our state’s Catholic conference.

I hope that my letter demonstrates to the committee my strong support for the good work that Representative Springer has done to bring clarity and unity to a controversial and difficult issue.

In the Peace of Christ,

Most Reverend Michael Olson
Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth


The Ordination of Nghia Nguyen to the Transitional Diaconate

We are all familiar with the ministry of deacons in our parishes. In the Catholic Church, the diaconate is the first of three ranks in ordained ministry. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, and single men may be ordained with a commitment to celibacy. On March 7, 2015, I was privileged to ordain to the transitional diaconate, Rev. Mr. Nghia Nguyen for service in the Diocese of Fort Worth. God willing, I will ordain him to the priesthood in over one year’s time. Please pray for all of our deacons and for those men who are aspiring towards the diaconate. Please also continue to pray for Deacon Nghia and for all of our seminarians who are being formed for the priesthood. Here is my homily from Deacon Nghia’s ordination to the diaconate.

+ Bishop Olson

Homily for the Ordination of Nghia Nguyen to the Transitional Diaconate

Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church
Arlington, Texas
March 7, 2015

Jeremiah 1:4-9

Acts 6:1-7a
Matthew 20:25-28

Nghia, you are here today not because of your perseverance through many years in the seminary system, although it is noteworthy for its duration; you are here today to say “yes” again to the call of Christ; Christ who always calls you. Your “yes” is to Christ, trust Him, not anything else.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of how the Church faces a problem of the Greek-speaking widows who are complaining of injustice. This problem becomes an opportunity for God’s Grace to enter once again in a new way into the life of the Church. The problem soon gives way, not a systematic solution, but to a deeper revelation of Christ disguised in the mystery of the human person, especially the human person who is in need; the human person who is not a universal abstraction, but a real person with a name.

The Church needs your diaconal ministry just as it required that of St. Stephen and the other deacons in the early days of the Church, as read in the Acts of the Apostles. The diaconal ministry of Stephen helped to prevent the exclusion of the poor widows and children, an exclusion that was taking place on the basis of differences in culture and language in society, and it was affecting the life of the Church through unawareness and insensitivity of its human membership. The Greek speaking widows spoken of in today’s reading had begun to be treated more as a “corporate problem” than as particular persons with problems who have been incorporated into Christ’s Body, the Church.

Today, we are faced with the same challenges and the same need for diaconal ministry where the busy-ness of our society often propels us towards basic insensitivity and unawareness. This too often leads to our own adoption of a passive attitude whereby people become simply problems that are insoluble on their own terms. The grace of diaconal ministry, including the diaconal ministry of bishops and priests, and those diaconal aspects of the ministry of the baptized laity, prevents us from facing the people in the margins of society simplistically as a problem. Christ uses diaconal ministry to save us from abandoning people because they are misunderstood by us as problems that are too difficult for us to resolve on our own terms. Nghia, your diaconal vocation must be a means by which Christ calls us back from such complacency. As Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium:

“Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.”

While today you are ordained a deacon so that you might make the transition towards priesthood, the diaconal quality of your ministry (care for the poor, care for those persons in the margins, care for those persons overlooked, care for those who suffer violence, concern for those without a clear voice, care for those persons threatened by isolation and exclusion from the common good because of existing differences in language and culture) is not transitional in the sense that it ever goes away.

Despite its transitional character, your diaconal ordination has its own unique integrity that will be necessary for your future priestly ministry. This diaconal ordination will strengthen you in the command of our Lord “to serve and not to be served” that must imbue your personal character, your human formation, and your priestly identity so that Christ’s Grace more clearly might be seen in the administration of the sacraments and not obscured by the seduction of entitlement.

This sense of entitlement is subtle and often gradual. The promises that you make today of celibate chastity and obedience to me and to my successors are most truly directed to Christ; these are graces given to you by Christ to save you from this subtle and deadly enemy. The subtlety of entitlement involves a gradual shift in priorities when the mission of the Gospel becomes secondary to the human dimensions of the institution of the Church. This can frequently affect parish ministry in that our policies can soon take on a custodianship of the status quo of the parish administration instead of facilitating the authentic sacramental life of our people. The ministry of the sacramental life must establish the priorities articulated in our policies and not vice versa. The fidelity of your diaconal ministry as one who is “to serve and not to be served” will help to guard you against this subtle foe of entitlement throughout your priestly life. The fidelity of your diaconal ministry will prevent your priestly ministry from becoming simply cultic or ceremonial.

As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, “Every priest, of course, also continues to be a deacon and must always be aware of this dimension, for the Lord Himself became our deacon. Recall the act of the washing of the feet, where it is explicitly shown that the Teacher, the Lord, acts as a deacon and wants those who follow Him to be deacons and carry out this ministry for humanity, to the point that they even help us to wash the dirty feet of the people entrusted to our care. This dimension seems to be of paramount importance.”

The justice that your diaconal ministry proclaims must always be subordinate to charity and love. Justice most strictly delineates the obligations that we possess in accordance with charity–love–the very life of God shared unconditionally with us by Christ.

This love is the same love that Christ offered you in giving you a vocation. Never doubt that it is Christ who has called you; it is He who has chosen you, not you who have first chosen Him. This love you know intimately, He offers to you on a daily basis through the grace of your ordination. Trust this Grace. Trust Him at times of fear and oppression and loneliness, and He will be your joy.