Vatican orders Arlington nuns to rescind statement rejecting Fort Worth bishop’s authority

An association of Carmelite nuns will now direct day to day operations of the Arlington monastery where nuns rejected the bishop’s authority last summer over his investigation into reports their leader broke her chastity vow, according to a decree Thursday from the Vatican.

Bishop Michael Olson of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth will oversee other matters at the monastery, including the election of the leadership. His authority remains intact.

The nuns of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity were also told to rescind their August 2023 statement that rejected the bishop’s authority.

The decree was issued after the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and the Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach were in a dispute stemming from an investigation into a report that she violated her chastity vows with a priest. The nuns sued the diocese over invasion of privacy in May 2023, but the suit was dismissed in June after a judge ruled that the courts did not have jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters.

The Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life issued the decree placing the oversight of the monastery with The Association of Christ the King, the association to which the Arlington Carmelites belong.

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“In light of this decision, I consider my task and responsibility as Pontifical Commissary of the Arlington Carmel to have ended,” Olson said in a statement.

The Association recently petitioned the Holy See to be entrusted with direct oversight and responsibility for the governance of the Arlington monastery, according to Olson’s statement.

“The petition was made to help restore the Arlington Carmel to good health and unity with the local and universal church,” the bishop wrote.

Mother Marie of the Incarnation, president of the Association of Christ the King, is recognized as the lawful superior of the Arlington Carmel, Olson wrote.

In a letter to the nuns, Sister Simona Brambilla, the Vatican’s secretary of Consecrated Life Discastery, wrote the bishop’s authority remains intact and must be respected.

“Finally, to regularize your relationship with the Bishop of Fort Worth and the local church you are instructed to withdraw and rescind your declaration of August 18, 2023.”

That is when the nuns said they did not recognize the bishop’s authority and said he was not allowed on their property.

Pat Svacina, a spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, said there would be no comment beyond what was included in the statement.

Matthew Bobo, an attorney representing the nuns in the lawsuit against the diocese, declined to comment on the Vatican’s decree.

Olson wrote that he will oversee the election of a new prioress after Gerlach’s term ended in January.

The dispute played out publicly for months last year, and came to a head in August when Olson threatened Gerlach and other nuns with possible excommunication after they issued a statement barring Olson from the monastery property.

Olson dismissed Gerlach from the order on June 1, 2023, a day after the Vatican gave him the authority to investigate reports that she had violated her chastity vow with a priest. She has denied the allegation and appealed her dismissal to the Vatican.

Gerlach and Sister Francis Therese had sued Olson a month earlier, alleging that the bishop defamed her, invaded their privacy and stole personal electronic devices during his investigation into reports of Gerlach’s transgressions. A Tarrant County judge dismissed the lawsuit in June, ruling the dispute was a church matter.

In August, Olson warned Gerlach and other nuns at the monastery they could possibly face excommunication for rejecting his authority as bishop and pontifical commissary.

In a letter to Olson, Brambilla wrote: “Acknowledging that the events of the past year have caused you and the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth hardship and unwarranted public attention, this Discastery writes to you now to thank you for your heroic and thankless service to the local church and the Carmel of Arlington as Pontifical commissary.”