Vatican reinstates Carmelite nun after bishop’s dismissal in Texas over affair with priest

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CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 13:04 pm

The Holy See has reinstated a Carmelite mother superior nearly a year after the bishop of Fort Worth, Texas, dismissed her after alleged inappropriate conduct with a priest. 

Bishop Michael Olson issued a decree on June 1, 2023, dismissing Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach from religious life following a nearly six-week-long investigation into the affair. 

Gerlach had previously served as the prioress of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington. Olson said at the time of the dismissal that the investigation had found her “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.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Olson said that the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life “informed me that it overturned the decree dismissing Mother Teresa Agnes” from the Arlington monastery. 

“Although the dicastery acknowledged that Mother Teresa Agnes admitted to misconduct against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue,” Olson wrote, “they reasoned in part that her admission did not establish that the misconduct was ‘perpetrated by the exertion of force or violence.’” 

The Code of Canon Law (No. 1395) stipulates that a cleric who commits a sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue using “force, threats, or abuse of his authority” can suffer significant penalties, up to and including dismissal. 

“Additionally, the dicastery reasoned in part that her admission of misconduct did not establish abuse of her ecclesiastical authority of prioress, since she ‘possessed no real or even imagined authority’ over her accomplice, a priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, since he was not ‘subject to Mother Teresa Agnes’ authority as prioress,’” Olson said. 

In its decree, the dicastery also said that the mother superior was “not afforded the full 15 days allotted to respond fully to the canonical warnings” regarding her disobedience of the bishop.

Though it reversed the decision dismissing Gerlach from her role at the monastery, the dicastery “upheld the decisions I made last year” regarding the larger investigation, Olson said on Wednesday. 

“All decisions were made for the good of Mother Teresa Agnes and the Arlington Carmel and its sisters,” Olson said on Wednesday, “in accordance with my obligation under canon law and the rule and constitutions of the Arlington Carmelites as the local bishop.”

The dispute between the Carmelite nuns and Olson has grown increasingly bitter over the last year. During the investigation, Olson banned the monastery from celebrating daily Mass and blocked access to regular confessions.

At the time he accused the nuns of hindering his investigation into the monastery after they filed a lawsuit against him. The Vatican subsequently appointed the bishop as the pontifical commissary in the dispute, confirming his authority over the nuns in his diocese. 

In April of this year the Vatican declared that the Association of Christ the King in the United States would oversee the “government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges” of the Arlington monastery. That decision ended the bishop’s role as the pontifical commissary. 

Several days later the nuns filed a request for a restraining order against Olson and the parties tasked with overseeing the monastery. 

Before filing for the restraining order, the nuns had indicated their intent to defy the Vatican’s decree regarding oversight of the monastery, labeling it “a hostile takeover that we cannot in conscience accept.” The nuns subsequently dropped the request for the restraining order

On Wednesday Olson said the association’s oversight would “ensure that all the nuns within the monastery can be heard, rightly cared for, and nurtured in their religious life in full communion with the Catholic Church.” 

“As their bishop, I stand ready to pastorally assist the nuns of the Arlington Carmel,” he said.

Matthew Bobo, the lawyer representing the nuns, said that Gerlach would continue to stay at the monastery following the decision. 

“She never left the monastery as she was awaiting the recourse from the Vatican,” he told CNA, “which was obviously returned in her favor.”


Daniel Payne

Daniel Payne is a senior editor at Catholic News Agency. He previously worked at the College Fix and Just the News. He lives in Virginia with his family.

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