Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 24, 2023 / 15:15 pm (CNA).
A Carmelite nun who accused the Diocese of Fort Worth and Bishop Michael Olson of violating both civil law and canon law is now appealing to the Vatican after the bishop refused to let her choose her own canon lawyer for representation in a diocesan investigation, according to a civil lawyer representing the nun.
The diocese has accused the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of violating her vow of chastity with a priest. Although the diocese claims she admitted to the misconduct, a civil lawyer representing Gerlach claims the admission came under heavy medication from a procedure and she does not recall what she admitted.
“She did not have sex with a priest,” Matthew Bobo, the civil lawyer representing Gerlach, said in a statement.
Gerlach, who serves in the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, sought out an independent canon lawyer to represent her in the diocesan investigation into the allegation, but Olson denied each of her suggestions, according to Bobo. Instead, the bishop appointed a different canon lawyer to represent her without her consent or approval.
“Bishop Olson denied Mother Superior’s right to independent canonical (Church law) representation with three different canon lawyers (advocates) and one procurator,” Bobo said in a statement. “Mother Superior rejects any and all representation by her current canon lawyer, appointed by the bishop without her consent, who is not independent nor representing her canonical or natural law rights.”
Bobo told CNA that the bishop-appointed canon lawyer, Michael J. Podhajsky, is already filing documents on behalf of Gerlach, despite her protest. Bobo said the canon lawyer does not represent the nun and does not have the authority to represent the nun.
“He has never had a conversation with my clients,” Bobo said. “He’s never talked to them.”
Bobo added that the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity is challenging the bishop’s rejection of Gerlach’s canon lawyer requests and “filed certain documents with the Vatican to address the actions of the bishop.”
A spokesperson for the diocese declined to comment on the matter.
Podhajsky, who was appointed by the bishop, told CNA that he is aware that Gerlach did not agree with him being appointed to represent her. He said he has tried to work with Gerlach, but it is up to her whether she wants to work with him.
“I’ve done my job to represent her to the best of my ability,” Podhajsky said. “I’ve made every effort to reach out to her.”
Gerlach and the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity filed a lawsuit against Bishop Olson and the diocese last week. The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages and accuses them of invading the privacy of Gerlach and the other nuns. According to the lawsuit, the bishop confiscated Gerlach’s computer, cellphone, and laptop and subjected the nuns to lengthy questioning.
The diocese asked the court to throw out the lawsuit, claiming that it is an ecclesiastical matter over which civil courts do not have jurisdiction.
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The Nun who is being denied her rights by not being able to choose her own counsel. Bishop Olson is strong arming the situation, and lost his composure earlier at the Convent upsetting others at the Monastery. This should have been handled more professionally and discreetly. I sincerely hope the Pope will step in an handedly manor and resolve it. The Catholic Church has enough problems.
You know, it’s bad enough to refer to women in general by their last name with no courtesy title preceding it but for a Catholic news agency to follow suit in the case of a Carmelite mother superior is really indicative of how we’ve adopted the ways of the world. And its lack of respect and manners.