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Fort Worth bishop dismisses Carmelite mother superior in latest in Texas monastery-diocese dispute

Peter Pinedo By Peter Pinedo for CNA

Left: The Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. (Image: Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns); right: Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, TX (Image: Wikipedia)

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 2, 2023 / 12:40 pm (CNA).

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, issued a decree Thursday dismissing Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach from religious life following a nearly six-week-long investigation into an alleged sexual affair involving a priest.

In his decree, Olson announced he had found Gerlach, prioress of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, “guilty of having violated the sixth commandment of the Decalogue and her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

Based on this finding, as the pontifical commissary with authority over the monastery, Olson said he is dismissing Gerlach from the Order of Discalced Carmelites.

According to the decree, Gerlach has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of the Apostolic Life.

In a separate statement, the diocese also announced that daily Mass and regular confession at the monastery would soon be reinstated following the investigation’s conclusion.

The actions are the latest in an ongoing dispute between Olson and the Texas Carmelite Monastery.

Matthew Bobo, the attorney representing the monastery in its civil lawsuit against the diocese, responded to the bishop’s decree, saying: “Bishop Michael Olson’s decision is unjust and unconscionable in the light of moral, canonical, and natural law.”

“Mother Superior will be appealing this immoral and unjust decision that is not subject to canonical action,” Bobo said.

“In addition, the civil lawsuit will accelerate and continue full speed ahead,” Bobo noted.

The dispute began in late April when the diocese launched a canonical investigation into an alleged sexual affair between Gerlach and an unnamed priest.

The reverend mother and the monastery filed a civil lawsuit on May 3 against the bishop and the diocese, accusing them of confiscating the reverend mother’s computer, cellphone, and laptop and subjecting nuns to lengthy questioning.

The monastery argued that Olson had no authority over it as it is an “autonomous religious entity” subject only to the Vatican.

They further accuse the bishop and the diocese of violating both civil and canon law through his conduct related to the investigation.

The lawsuit seeks $1 million in civil damages and asks the court to block the bishop’s and the diocese’s access to any records obtained by confiscating the reverend mother’s property.

In turn, the diocese argues that the dispute is an ecclesiastical matter and should not be heard in a civil court.

The civil hearing on the case is set for June 23.

After the monastery filed the lawsuit, Olson denied Gerlach’s ability to choose her canon lawyer, choosing one himself to represent her in the ecclesiastical investigation. Though the canon lawyer has already filed paperwork on her behalf, the reverend mother denies that he represents her in these matters.

Bobo told CNA that “the bishop’s own canon lawyer is compromised.”

“Bishop Olson rejected four canonical representatives of Mother Superior’s choosing and then forced his own canonical lawyer (lackey) on her with whom she has never spoken,” Bobo said.

In response to the monastery’s claim of ecclesiastical autonomy, the diocese announced Wednesday that Olson had been appointed pontifical commissary over the monastery by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

As pontifical commissary, the diocese says Olson is “the pope’s representative in the matter” with “full authority for the Monastery.”

Though he has now reinstated daily Mass, for a time Olson banned the monastery from celebrating daily Mass and blocked access to regular confessions.

He did so on the grounds that the nuns’ actions violated the obedience owed to the “Holy Church and to her holy Pastors” in a manner “unbecoming of their religious state.”

The ban was lifted on Thursday in a diocesan statement that read: “Given the time that has passed and now having completed the investigation into the grave misconduct of the Reverend Mother … and having found her guilty of having violated the sixth commandment of the Decalogue and the vow of chastity, and having dismissed her from the Order of Discalced Carmelites, Bishop Michael Olson … has decided to reinstate daily Mass at the Carmel for the nuns of the Monastery beginning on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, at 7:30 a.m.”

The diocesan statement added that “given the pending lawsuit, Mass will remain closed to the participation of the lay faithful for the time being. The only Mass intention will be for the restoration of peace and good order of the Monastery.”

The diocese has not publicized the exact nature of the affair nor named the priest or any other diocese possibly involved.

Though the diocese says that Gerlach has admitted to the misconduct, Bobo said that Gerlach was under the influence of pain medication related to a surgery when she is alleged to have admitted to the affair and “has not admitted to any grave misconduct that would warrant his extreme and emotionally damaging measures.”

According to Bobo, Gerlach, 43, was suffering from serious medical issues and had just undergone surgery when she was said to have admitted to the misconduct.

“Bishop Olson has publicly defamed Mother Superior on matters of the moral law that are NOT canonically actionable,” Bobo told CNA. “His ‘investigation’ was never announced as such to Mother Superior nor the nuns. With a 30-minute window before appearing at the monastery, he advised them he was coming without providing the rationale for his visit and then showed up with the diocesan chancellor and forensic expert and then proceeded to interrogate Mother Superior just after a medical procedure while she was still recovering from the medical use of fentanyl.”

Bobo added that Gerlach “is in a wheelchair and her health has deteriorated.”

A spokesperson for the diocese declined to comment further on the matter.

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  1. I wonder whether the bishop would have acted so decisively if one of his priests were discovered to have had a homosexual liaison? Somehow, I rather doubt it. Counseling, rest and recovery, reassignment…. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

    • Precisely their program.

      Diverging somewhat from the Apostles whose offices they now usurp.

      I believe it was George Bernard Shaw, the agnostic, who grudgingly admired the survival of The Church despite the repulsive behavior of the Borgia pontificates of Renaissance days, whom he described as “picturesque.”

      Oh well, as one wsg quipped a few years ago, now we have the “21st-Century-Borgia-Pontificate,” but without the good taste in art.

    • And, we’ve heard nothing about the priest with whom the abbess was supposed to have had sexual relations. We can only hope that he was not her confessor. And, if that report is true, why haven’t we heard any mention of his name and the consequences levied against him by the bishop.

    • Even in this case, there is no mention of consequences for the priest. He should suffer equal consequences if indeed these accusations by the bishop are true.

  2. It seems to me that being on fentanyl would make anything she might have said inadmissible in any court, especially a heavenly one. And by the way, what was done to the priest? Was he laicized? That would seem to be the equivalent penalty. I think there is more to this than meets the eye.

  3. If the nun’s name was made public, shouldn’t the priest who violated his vow of celibacy also be named? Seems unfair.

    • Yes, unjust in every possible sense.

      Religious women obviously count for nothing in this regime, as evidenced by Pontiff Francis, in his public protection of their-serial-rapist-abuser “Rev. Rupnik SJ.”

      How utterly disgusting these Bishops pivked by this Pontificate are: they Bishop as prosecutor publicly smears a woman religious charging her with an offense, before any trial, and then said Bishop declares that the woman accused cannot be defended by her chosen attorney, but instead only by such attorney selected by the prosecuting Bishop.

      How disgusting and repulsive these Bishops of the Francis regime are.

      • Reminds me of the woman caught in adultery. Where was the man? Was he going to go and sin no more? But it’s the fentanyl aspect that still bothers me. Anything she supposedly said should be reexamined in that light by a proper authority.

  4. So the priest in the alleged affair is not named and punishment is unknown, while the prioress is dismissed in a six week investigation while prioress is still very ill. In the meantime across the Atlantic the German Bishops are doing all they can to destroy the Church in Germany with no hint of chastisement by the Pope. WoW!!

  5. Christ said “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. However, he did not what size stone or what sin. Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach’s case should not have been exposed w/o the “offending” MALE priest being revealed as well. But, an autocracy would never expose its internal strife to the world, especially since Mother’s health is declining. That move suggests that the Bishop is being micromanaged. Olsen did not have to parade her alone, in a wheelchair, in broad daylight, before the tribunal. Let’s pray that Mother Teresa will regain her health and proceed unincumbered to a bright future.

    • What bright future in ministry should she have if she has violated her vows exactly? People always complain that spiritual leaders won’t address sin, and yet when they do, there’s always a progressive contingent trying to defend the indefensible. If she violated her vows, she needs to be removed from ministry, wheelchair not withstanding.

  6. I don’t know anything except what is in Catholic Media but this all probably wouldn’t have gone public if the superior hadn’t sued her Ordinary in civil court.

  7. There’s more to this between the Mother Superior and the Bishop that is not being disclosed. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

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