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J.D. Long-GarcíaJune 10, 2022
San Diego Auxiliary Bishop John P. Dolan celebrates the Pentecost Mass for All Peoples at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego June 4, 2022. (CNS photo/Howard Lipin, courtesy Diocese of San Diego)

Pope Francis has appointed Auxiliary Bishop John P. Dolan of San Diego to be the next bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. Bishop Dolan will replace Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, who has been leading the diocese since 2003.

“I'm filled with deep, deep gratitude,” Bishop Dolan said during a press conference June 10 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in downtown Phoenix. “The Lord has been at my side, and he remains faithful to me.”

Mid-sentence, he removed his cell phone from his coat pocket and placed it on the podium. “My phone, pardon me, has been blowing up,” Bishop Dolan said, to laughter. “I begin this service to the people of God here in the Diocese of Phoenix knowing that my Lord is with me, and that the Spirit of God is guiding me,” he said.

“I'm filled with deep, deep gratitude,” Bishop Dolan said during a press conference. “The Lord has been at my side, and he remains faithful to me.”

“I'll probably get rid of my coats,” Bishop Dolan joked, explaining he has lived in San Diego all of his life. “I grew up in the heart of San Diego, just miles from Pacific Beach where I would spend long summer days surfing and boogie boarding. My dermatologist can attest to that.”

In San Diego, he served as vicar general, vicar for clergy, moderator of the curia and vocations director before his episcopal ordination as auxiliary bishop in 2009. He served in various parishes before his appointment as bishop. He said the transition from pastor to diocesan governance “took me a little while to embrace.” For the last two years, he has been overseeing the California Catholic Conference’s African-American Anti-Racism Task Force.

During his remarks, he also noted the conference’s partnership with the state’s Catholic health systems to create the Whole Person Care Initiative. Through the initiative, the church accompanies those facing serious, life-ending illnesses.

“I'm a big fan of being more proactive, rather than reactive,” Bishop Dolan said, praising efforts in Arizona to walk with mothers in need. The church is also called to accompany immigrants, he said.

“I'm a big fan of being more proactive, rather than reactive,” Bishop Dolan said, praising efforts in Arizona to walk with mothers in need.

“They’re trying to eke out a living. They’re trying to find some semblance of life,” Bishop Dolan said, adding they should be accompanied in a “pastoral way.”

Bishop Dolan said he had come to “quickly love and admire [Bishop Olmsted], a true disciple and a son of the church,” adding he was “particularly moved as we shared our family stories, including the story of his mother, who’s 100 years old, and my mother, who is a youthful 92.” His father is also 92.

“To the men and women, religious deacons and wives, priests, lay faithful and bishops in Phoenix, I promise my heartfelt love and prayer as we journey together toward proclaiming the good news of Jesus,” Bishop Dolan said. “He is the Lord. He is our shepherd. He is our brother and our friend. And he promises us the joys of his peaceable kingdom here and in the life to come.”

“My brothers and sisters in Christ, I have no doubt that you will come quickly to know our new bishop’s joyful spirit and his generous heart,” Bishop Olmsted said.

Bishop Olmsted described Bishop Dolan as “genuinely compassionate.” “My brothers and sisters in Christ, I have no doubt that you will come quickly to know our new bishop’s joyful spirit and his generous heart and like me, give thanks to God each day for the love of Jesus and be honored to be his servant,” he said.

Bishop Olmsted said the church in Phoenix has made efforts to reach out to younger Catholics in particular. “We hear that is the group that is finding itself more and more distanced from society, so that is a group we need to focus on,” he said, noting current efforts at universities within the diocese.

“Evangelization and discipleship always have to be at the forefront of what we’re doing, and we’re always, always in need of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Olmsted said. “There are those who may have never heard of [Jesus] before or [were] turned off because of what they’ve heard or understand. We need to continually reach out. I’m confident Bishop Dolan will follow along these lines very well.”

“Evangelization and discipleship always have to be at the forefront of what we’re doing, and we’re always, always in need of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Olmsted said

Some might see Bishop Dolan’s disposition toward the L.G.B.T. community as contrasting with that of Bishop Olmsted. In 2004, months after beginning his time in Phoenix, Bishop Olmsted ordered nine priests and one religious brother to remove their names from the “Phoenix Declaration.”

That document states, in part, that “Homosexuality is not a sickness, not a choice, and not a sin. We affirm that GLBT persons are distinctive, holy, and precious gifts to all who struggle to become the family of God…. All laws must protect the freedoms, rights, and equal legal standing of all persons.”

New Ways Ministry described Bishop Dolan as “LGBT-positive” upon his appointment as auxiliary. He served as pastor of St. John the Evangelist in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego, home to a large L.G.B.T. community. At the press conference, Bishop Dolan explained he had unexpectedly been assigned to the parish after the untimely death of their pastor. The parish was in the process of becoming more welcoming to the surrounding community.

“I was profoundly moved by members of that community, some of whom were struggling with this idea of a welcoming parish and others who were wondering if they would even be welcomed,” Bishop Dolan said.

“I’m not a person who likes to draw a line in the sand,” Bishop Dolan said. “I’m really a person who likes to dialogue, rather than shut things down.”

“I’m not a person who likes to draw a line in the sand,” Bishop Dolan said. “I’m really a person who likes to dialogue, rather than shut things down. And I think we are better in church when we have an open heart.”

He compared his outlook to that of Pope Francis, explaining that he “grew up in a very large family, nine kids. There’s no way of drawing a line in the sand with nine kids. You can’t do that. You have to fight it out sometimes. But at the end of the day, we go to a table together and have dinner, and that’s what we should be eventually working toward.”

Bishop Dolan will be installed as bishop of Phoenix in August. He will oversee one of the fastest growing Catholic dioceses in the United States, home to 1.1 million Catholics.

“I rejoice in the Holy Father’s appointment of Bishop John Dolan as bishop of Phoenix,” Cardinal-designate Robert McElroy, bishop of San Diego, said in a statement. “He is a man of deep faith, pastoral wisdom and enormous energy. In addition, there is a profound joy in his soul that reflects the grace of God and the wonderful love of his parents and family.”

Cardinal-designate McElroy noted that Bishop Dolan had been pastor of six diverse parishes, adding the bishop had “deepened the solidarity of our presbyterate and enhanced the personal well-being of our priests and deacons. The Diocese of Phoenix is receiving a true shepherd of Jesus Christ as their leader.”

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