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Black CEO of Catholic Charities Forth Worth ousted by Bishop Michael Olson

Christopher Plumlee is out as CEO of charity outreach in a Texas diocese, for support of what his bishop calls the work of "postmodern theorists".

Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth (left) and Michael Plumlee. (Complicit Clergy)

Christopher Plumlee has been ousted by his bishop as CEO of Catholic Charities Fort Worth, following months of wrangling and a strongly-worded letter accusing the Black executive of infidelity to Catholic teaching.

The news of the forced resignation came in late May, just nine months after Plumlee’s hiring.

"These social principles and your action in alignment with them are most truly hostile to the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church and thus to the authentic mission of CCFW," Bishop Michael F. Olson wrote Plumlee in early April, in a letter obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The principles in question appear to concern diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), a standard business practice that Olson nevertheless maligned as originating with “postmodern theorists.” (The CCFW website retains an official statement in support of DEI as of July 14th.)

The controversy with Plumlee began after his announcement of a Women's Empow[her]ment Summit, scheduled for April 28th and featuring keynote speaker Sheryl Adkins-Green, an African-American who serves as chief marketing officer for Mary Kay.

Upon notice of the event, Olson alleged that Plumlee failed to fully vet the speakers for the event, which the prelate said should have included running them by the Diocese of Fort Worth’s Department of Evangelization and Catechesis.

However, Olson also questioned the fact that the event would have no male speakers—and no bishop.

“You promised the group of speakers that no men would speak at this event and that I was not invited to speak because of my masculinity,” he wrote to Plumlee in protest.

“This stated position of yours misrepresents Catholic teaching.”

Plumlee—a cradle Catholic and former chairman of the board for CCFW—has declined to discuss with media the specific reasons why he ultimately resigned as CEO, but soon after his correspondence with Olson, the women’s conference was canceled and Plumlee was asked to resign.

“Things went completely sideways,” he said, after publicly refusing Olson’s request for more than a month before acquiescing.

Appointed in his stead as interim CEO is Fr Anthony Chandler, an African-American priest from the Archdiocese of Louisville. He is known for his ministry in the military as well as with rural parishes, and recently served as a vocations director.

Plumlee’s ordeal is only the latest controversy involving the episcopal leadership of Olson, who was appointed by Pope Francis in 2013 and has repeatedly refused media requests to comment on the situation with CCFW.

Following a racist incident in 2021 at Nolan Catholic High School involving the use of the n-word by a non-Black student, Olson gave a would-be conciliatory speech at the school in which he called “critical theories”—including “Critical Marxist Theory”—“inadequate and evil”.

In 2015, news broke of a lawsuit against Olson claiming that he interrogated an alleged abuse victim with the help of a plainclothes police officer, in a meeting Olson insisted be held at a Starbucks. No lawyer was present with the victim, and the diocese is said to have never investigated the claim as the statute of limitations ran out.

Beginning in 2018, the prelate locked horns with a local priest, Fr Richard Kirkham, whom the Vatican allegedly ruled was improperly suspended by Olson for more than a year amidst a scandal involving Kirkham and a priest in Dallas. Two other Fort Worth priests resigned for unrelated reasons around the same time, one of whom was criticized by Olson for his hobby of brewing craft beer.

These and other issues led to public calls for Olson’s resignation in 2019, complete with a website dedicated to the cause and a petition calling for a Vatican investigation with more than 1,500 signatures. A petition in 2017 concerning Nolan High was successful in reversing his cancelation of a popular youth retreat.

“I’m not a dictator,” Olson told the Star-Telegram in 2018.

“I'm not a potentate. People are going to do what they want to do.”

Update (7/14/22): The Diocese of Fort Worth has responded to this article with the following statement. It is reprinted with permission:

“Bishop Michael Olson did not “oust” the Fort Worth Catholic Charities CEO. Bishop Olson has no authority to oust” the CEO.  Only the Fort Worth Catholic Charities board may do so. Mr. Plumlee resigned his post. He was not ousted or terminated. Please read Bishop Olson’s letter to Mr. Plumlee which is attached, and clearly states that the Bishop only requested Mr. Plumlee’s resignation.

The issue that was the cause for Bishop request was not diversity, equality, and inclusion. The Bishop endorsed the summit from the onset of announcement of the summit as stated in the Bishop’s letter and the Bishop made the commitment to personally present on Catholic moral teaching. The Bishop asked several times for a small amount of time on the agenda to enable him to ensure that Catholic moral teaching was part of a day that focused through the speakers on the business aspects of empowering women. As the Bishop’s letter states, it is the “first principles “ of Catholic moral teaching that undergird the mission and identity of Catholic Charities. As the letter points out, the Bishop sought a solution to enable the summit. Diversity, equality and inclusion were not the issue but rather the issue was the lack of time to present Catholic moral teachings at the gathering. and Bishop Olson sought resolutions to enable the summit.

Also, the headline implies that race was an issue.  That is incorrect. Race was never an issue and is not.  The interim Catholic Charities CEO is Father Anthony Chandler, an African-American priest from the Archdiocese of Louisville, which your story points out.”

Bishop Olson's letter to Plumlee can be read in full here:

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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