Pope Francis announced Friday that he has named Bishop John Dolan, Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, as the new Bishop of Phoenix — a “seismic shift” according to one theologian.
“My heart is filled with joy on this day that Pope Francis appoints me as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix,” Dolan said in a statement. “I cannot begin to express my gratitude to God for His goodness to me throughout my life and I enter this new chapter with a renewed commitment to love the Lord and His Church with all my heart, soul and strength and to serve.
In addition to thanking God and his family and fellow priests and parishioners, Dolan said he was especially grateful to Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego and Auxiliary Bishop Ramon Bejarano.
“Finally, I am truly thankful to God for Bishop Thomas Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares who have warmly welcomed me to the Diocese of Phoenix. Please pray for all three of us as we journey together on a mission in Christ!”
In his own statement, McElroy said, “I rejoice at the appointment by the Holy Father of Bishop John Dolan as Bishop of Phoenix. He is a man of deep faith, pastoral wisdom and tremendous energy. Moreover, there is a deep joy in his soul that reflects the grace of God and the wonderful love of his parents and family.”
Dolan, a Spanish-speaking person, will succeed Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, whose resignation was accepted effective Friday after he turned 75, the usual retirement age for bishops.
Dolan’s appointment would mean a change in ideology for the Arizona diocese.
Olmsted has developed a reputation as a staunch theological and political conservative, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
In recent years, Olmsted has headlined the conservatively-led National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, supported calls for pro-choice Catholic politicians not to receive Communion, and supported religion-based exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccines, despite support from the Vatican and Francis for those vaccines, the Reporter said.
As an auxiliary bishop, Dolan has been an advocate for migrants and has done pastoral work with LGBTQ Catholics. He served in the parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hillcrest, where he said he was “deeply moved by members of that community”.
Dolan also served as a spiritual advisor to the Lost Boys of Sudan and other refugees.
At a press conference in Phoenix, Dolan spoke out against “drawing a line in the sand”.
“I’m really someone who likes to start a dialogue instead of closing things,” he said. “I think we’re a better church if we have an open heart.”
Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the country and the Phoenix Diocese serves 1.2 million Catholics.
Dolan, 60, was named Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego in April 2017 after serving as pastor of six parishes within the diocese. He was ordained a priest of the diocese in July 1989 by Bishop Leo T. Maher.
He began as an associate pastor in St. Michael’s Parish in Paradise Hills before serving at Santa Sophia in Spring Valley, St. Rose of Lima in Chula Vista, St. Mary Star of the Sea in Oceanside, and St. Michael’s Parish in Poway , St. John the Evangelist and St. Vincent de Paul parishes in Hillcrest and Mission Hills.
He is the seventh of nine children in his family, born to Catherine and Gerald Dolan.
“For the Church of San Diego and for me personally, Bishop Dolan’s departure will be a great loss,” McElroy said.
Dolan, a resident of San Diego, joked during a press conference in Phoenix that he should take off his jackets and wear shorts.
“Luckily, I like the desert,” he said.