The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Texas Carmelites defy bishop’s order to close their doors to the faithful

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, Aug 23, 2023 / 15:26 pm (CNA).

In an increasingly bitter dispute between a Texas bishop and a local Carmelite monastery, the nuns are defying an order by Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson that prohibits Catholic laity from visiting and praying at the monastery.

The nuns of the Most Holy Trinity Monastery in Arlington, Texas, issued a defiant three-page statement Wednesday in which they said that Olson does not have the authority to close off their monastery and that their chapel remains open to the public.

The nuns further claimed that Olson and the diocese continue to deny them the sacraments, including Mass and confessions.

The monastery statement, written by attorney Matthew Bobo, said that though “Bishop Olson continues his vindictive personal war against the Arlington Carmelite nuns,” they “do not and will not recognize this bishop’s unwarranted and unauthorized abuse and wielding of the complete power he suddenly is trying to exercise over the monastery.”

Bishop closes monastery doors to the public; nuns open them anyway

Though Olson has declared the monastery closed to the public, Bobo said that the nuns “decided to open their gates and allow the lay faithful to come and pray at the monastery’s chapel.”

“The monastery and all of its property belongs to the Discalced Carmelite nuns,” Bobo said. “No one has the right to tell a private property owner who can and cannot come onto their private property … The bishop has tried to isolate the Arlington Carmelite nuns, cutting them off from their longtime supporters and in so doing preventing the lay faithful from attending their church of choice.”

“Through his spiteful acts he can of course prevent priests from performing Mass and hearing confessions but he cannot prevent private citizens from going on private property,” Bobo said, adding that “the Arlington Carmelite nuns invite their lay faithful to come and pray at the monastery’s chapel.”

What is going on?

After investigating an alleged illicit affair involving the monastery’s prioress, Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, and a North Carolina priest named Father Philip Johnson, Olson dismissed Gerlach from religious life in April.

Olson was given full authority over the matter by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

In response, the nuns continue to claim that Gerlach has not committed any wrongdoing warranting her dismissal and that she has been unfairly targeted by Olson.

Though the nuns filed a civil theft, defamation, and abuse of power lawsuit against Olson, their case was dismissed by a district judge on June 30.

In an Aug. 18 statement on their website, the nuns said that Olson has subjected them to “unprecedented interference, intimidation, aggression, private and public humiliation, and spiritual manipulation.”

According to Olson, the nuns’ defiance constitutes “schismatic actions,” that is separation from proper authority in the Catholic Church.

On this basis, Olson said on Saturday that the Arlington monastery “remains closed to public access until such time as the Arlington Carmel publicly disavows itself of these scandalous and schismatic actions.”

Olson also said that the nuns’ decision to defy his authority and forbid him from entering monastery grounds may have incurred “latae sententiae” excommunication on themselves.

Excommunication is the separation of an individual from communion with God and his Church and ultimately removes the possibility of the promise of heaven until one repents. It is the gravest matter possible for a Catholic.

Bobo’s Wednesday statement said that the nuns “are not, and have no intention of, separating from the Catholic Church despite the incongruous statement made by the bishop.”

“They remain dedicated to the Catholic Church and the Holy See and pray that the Vatican will put an end to this malicious persecution by the bishop,” Bobo said.

Nuns drop lawsuit to appeal prioress’ dismissal

According to Bobo’s statement, the nuns have decided not to continue pursuing their civil lawsuit against Olson so that Gerlach can appeal her dismissal from religious life to ecclesial authorities.

“The Arlington nuns chose not to appeal the jurisdictional ruling by the civil court because the Vatican made clear that the canonical process would not proceed until the civil litigation had concluded,” Bobo said. “Based on that, the Arlington Carmelite nuns made the decision to end the civil litigation. It was not because they considered the judge’s ruling to be fair.”

During the ecclesial investigation that resulted in the prioress’ dismissal, Olson denied her the opportunity to choose her own canon lawyer, choosing one himself to represent her.

Bobo told CNA at the time that the canon lawyer appointed by the diocese to represent Gerlach was “compromised” and a “lackey” of the bishop.

In his Wednesday statement, Bobo said that “the nuns place their hopes and prayers on a just and fair review of the canonical case by the Vatican to ensure that acts taken by Bishop Olson will be reversed and they will be completely exonerated, allowing them to return to their prayerful contemplative life without further unlawful interference by Bishop Olson.”

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Catholic News Agency 8384 Articles
Catholic News Agency (


  1. I heard the recordings of the Bishop’s meeting with the nuns (they are easy to find online). He sounded reasonable, pastoral and professional. The Vatican expressed its full confidence in the Bishop to handle this and the secular court ruled in the Bishop’s favour. There have also been allegations of illicit drug in the convent.

    The nuns are now trying to insinuate that they are being persecuted for their return to Tradition and have involved the deeply controversial (and in my opinion, odd) Archbishop Vigano. It seems as though there are deep problems in this community. The bishop has the right and duty to restrict and investigate communities in his diocese (and the Vatican has affirmed this).

    • With regard to the allegations of illicit drug use in the convent, can these allegations be supported? If so, in what way?

  2. Dear Bishop Olsen, Pope Francis could use a good, “pontifical commissary as appointed by the Holy See”, like you, in China. Now that Pope Francis has given all Catholic Church Power and Authority in China over to Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese Communist Party is changing the Bible, making Catholics worship Xi Jinping instead of Jesus, and persecuting and martyring hundreds of thousands of Catholics. Now that you, Bishop Olsen, have proven yourself to Pope Francis and the world, by boldly going up against these Catholic nuns in Texas, we need you to pack your bags and go do the same in China.

    Lawmaker warns of Chinese communists changing the Bible

  3. The combination of playing the victim card and virtue-signaling has always struck me as the most noxious possible mix, and this story confirms that. The sad fact that it involves Catholic religious makes it even worse, and attorney Bobo seems poised to take full advantage of this sad situation.

    Question – in the photo the Reverend Mother is pictured sitting in a wheelchair, implying that she is disabled. No mention was made of any disability – why is she sitting in a wheelchair?

  4. A sad case involving two persons Bishop Olson and Mother Superior Gerlach OCD seeking what they perceive as their best interests. Previous comments here opined that it should not have gone public. Although once the case was appealed in the civil courts exposure to the public was inevitable.
    Gerlach appealed that she was under severe psychological impairment, seizures and confusion, when she succumbed to virtual sex via video chats, a common serious sin many engage in via social media. Bishop Olson apparently had to make a moral judgment, seemingly based on intent [for example someone committing a crime while under the influence is always held responsible, or even psych impairment doesn’t in all instances absolve us from lawful responsibility in the civil courts – as well as in a religious forum], however she believing it didn’t constitute a fully conscious, willful act. Mitigation would seem to be a relevant factor here, nonetheless it wasn’t considered sufficient. The Vatican gave the Bishop full jurisdiction and abided by the Bishop’s decision.
    Personally, I wouldn’t want to judge the case, although Olson had no choice. Gerlach [and her community] felt compelled to defend her perceived lack of full compliance. My prayers for both, that God may lead them to better days.

  5. The bishop seems to have already set up his position on this. If some more delicate handling was first needed, how is he now going to reach to it?

    About this wheelchair, if the other sisters afford their Superior this act of compassion, they share a close bond. Should he ruin that? Replace it?

    They might want to come out of courts but he wants to refashion the community? It’s not easy to tell and observers can easily descend into gossip.

    If I was a bishop and I discovered some kinds of values I cherish for custody of heart and temperance, I would try to be very discerning where I applied them.

  6. Where is the Christ the King Association? Apparently the Arlington Carmel belongs to that Association whose president is Mother Marie of the Incarnation of the Lake Elmo Carmel in Minnesota, and their Religious Assistant is Fr. John Mary Burns of the Carmelite Hermits of Lake Elmo.
    Why isn’t the Christ the King Association helping the nuns in Arlington? Why weren’t they helping the nuns before this problem became public? One Carmelite nun said that “If this happened in a Carmel of our Association our president would have been pounding on the door demanding to know what was going on.”

  7. I wonder what Saint Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross, Saint Therese of Lisieux and Edith Stein would tell this Carmelite Superior? Why did she not just step down for the sake of the Carmelite sisters whom she owes to be a leader and role model following Christ. Astonishing, there is no Carmelite spirit, none. I pray for them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.