As Fort Worth Diocese Bishop Michael Olson offered up a prayer Tuesday for new Gov. Greg Abbott, he asked for God to “bless us as one people” with courage and integrity — and to deliver the newly elected officials from selfishness, impatience and temptation.
“I was very humbled that the governor would ask me to do this,” Olson, who has been friends with Abbott for about 25 years, said after the ceremony. “He’s a good man and he has a lot of courage.”
Just as Olson’s voice was heard by the state’s new leadership — as well as by the thousands of Texans who gathered on the Capitol grounds to watch the new governor and new Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick formally take office — the bishop’s prayers and interests also may draw more attention during the ongoing legislative session.
Abbott is the first new Texas governor since outgoing Gov. Rick Perry took office in 2000 and some say while Abbott’s goals are similar to Perry’s, there may well be a shift in attention to some issues.
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Abbott is the state’s first Catholic governor in more than 150 years and is expected to remain true to his faith.
“As I begin my Governorship, I humbly ask for God’s continued grace and guidance, and I assure you: We will never forget that we remain One Nation Under God,” Abbott said.
Chosen to give the inaugural benediction, Olson’s concerns, as well as those of others taking the lead on various social issues, may gain new importance with the state’s top leader.
“It will be interesting to see how Abbott responds,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU in Fort Worth. “In many, perhaps most, cases, new executives coming to office will not want to use their political capital on pushing social issues that might distract from their agendas on healthcare, education, transportation, border security and the like.”
End of life issues
Olson is among those taking the lead on end-of-life legislative issues for the Roman Catholic Bishops of Texas this year.
Abbott converted to Catholicism after his 1984 accident, in which he was out jogging and a tree limb fell on him, leaving him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair.
Issues Olson hopes draw attention to this year include making nutrition and hydration ordinary care, unless it would be harmful to a dying patient; reinforcing the rights of healthcare workers to not provide medically inappropriate treatment; and making sure communication with families over disagreements with doctors over treatment is compassionate.
Olson said he doesn’t believe his friendship with Abbott will draw any favor to issues he is involved with, though.
“We were friends before I was a bishop and he was a governor and we’ll be friends long after,” he said. “We are very sensitive about not abusing that friendship.”
Nonetheless, Abbott’s new leadership comes “at a time when the Catholic Church has only two years ago welcomed its first Jesuit Pope, a Pope who, following the Jesuit tradition, places a high priority on social justice and caring for the poor,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.
There’s no question that Olson and other religious leaders could help shape policy in the upcoming legislative session, experts say.
“The bishop is a very important person in Texas,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Greg Abbott may be setting the stage for a more comprehensive administration but likely will not change any of his strong social views.
“But [it’s] still wonderful to bring many groups to the table.”
Pro-life advocates have found much success at the Texas Capitol during Perry’s 14-year tenure. And they believe and hope they will find the same, or more, support from Abbott.
“He’s definitely a friend and an ally,” said Kyleen Wright of Mansfield, president of the Texans for Life Coalition, who helped push for comprehensive abortion restriction legislation.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610