Religion

New Prosper pastor says advocacy group is creating ‘discord’ in the diocese, parish

Fort Worth Diocese Bishop Michael Olson
Fort Worth Diocese Bishop Michael Olson Star-Telegram archives

The new pastor of St. Martin de Porres in Prosper wants to make clear that an advocacy group at the church that’s seeking a papal investigation of Bishop Michael Olson is not affiliated with the parish or its school.

“I have heard from many of you and of your concerns of discomfort with the solicitations and involvement of the FRK Advocate Group,” Fr. Stephen Hauck wrote in an open letter on the church’s website. “I would like to make clear that the FRK Advocate Group is not a St. Martin de Porres Parish or School group.”

FRK stands for Fr. Richard Kirkham, who was forced out of the parish after Olson received a letter that Kirkham wrote to a pastor in Dallas who was accused of having an affair with a woman who worked at his parish. Olson deemed the letter intimidating, manipulative and inappropriate based on the contents and language used in the writing.

The advocacy group has created a private Facebook page that has attracted 568 members. The group also spearheaded a petition that asks for a Vatican investigation into Olson and the diocese. The petition has more than 1,230 signatures as of Tuesday evening. The group also created a website — FRKadvocates.com — which includes a timeline of what has happened to Kirkham, testimonials about Olson and a FAQ section.

The advocates also bought a billboard across the street from the diocese’s pastoral and administrative offices at 800 West Loop 820 South in Fort Worth. The billboard says “May God Be Praised.” It’s the phrase Kirkham would use to end his sermons, said a member who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The sign has a link to the group’s website at the bottom.

Hauck said in his letter that many people have expressed their desire that the advocacy group be shut down.

“While my authority as pastor of our parish and school is broad, I don’t generally have the authority to restrict anybody’s speech,” Hauck wrote. “Members of the FRK Advocate Group and all parishioners are afforded freedom of speed, including the wearing of ribbons. It is simply not legally possible to forbid the wearing of ribbons, nor is it a pathway I wish to journey down.”

Hauck said he believes the group is creating discord within the parish and diocese.

In a letter that was sent to the Star-Telegram, parishioner Steve Knobbe wrote why the group was formed.

“The FRK Advocates started researching other problems in the diocese and found numerous incidents similar to the Father Richard Kirkham incident — that popular priests disappear or churches close — without due process or procedure according to canon law,” he wrote. “So, we decided to ask the Catholic Church to conduct an investigation and hold Bishop Olson accountable for not following canon law and mistreating laity and priests in the Fort Worth Diocese.”

Responding to an inquiry about the petition last week, the diocese said in an email that Olson has “faithfully executed” his duties as bishop.

“From time to time, Bishop Olson has made decisions after appropriate consultation during his tenure that have upset some people and that have been directed for the care and protection of the vulnerable,” the diocese said. “Bishop Olson understands this reality and respects those who do not always agree with him. Bishop Olson will continue to provide the spiritual leadership and guidance to the people of The Diocese of Fort Worth for which he was ordained to do and for which he was assigned to do by Pope Francis.”

Father Richard Kirkham also violated the Diocese safe environment policy on reporting allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct, according to Bishop Michael Olson.

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Nichole Manna is an investigative reporter for the Star-Telegram. Before moving to Fort Worth in July 2018, she covered crime and breaking news in Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska and Kansas. She is a 2012 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and grew up in Florida.
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