Vatican: Nuns Who Feuded With Texas Bishop Will Be Governed by Monastery Association

The Holy See ordered the nuns to ‘withdraw and rescind your declaration’ challenging the bishop’s authority.

L to R: Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, and former Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Most Holy Trinity Monastery in Arlington, Texas
L to R: Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, and former Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Most Holy Trinity Monastery in Arlington, Texas (photo: Diocese of Fort Worth; Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns via CNA)

A Carmelite monastery that has engaged in a yearlong feud with Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson will be governed by a religious association of monasteries going forward — but must normalize relations with the bishop, per a Vatican order.

The Association of Christ the King in the United States of America will oversee the “government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges” of the Arlington-based Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity. This decision ends the bishop’s role as the pontifical commissary, which had previously given him governing authority over the monastery.

“It is my prayer that the Arlington Carmel will now have the internal leadership needed to save the monastery and enable it to flourish once again, in unity with the Catholic Church,” Bishop Olson said in a statement.

A feud between the monastery and the bishop began in late April of last year, when the bishop launched an investigation into Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach. She was ultimately dismissed from religious life for alleged sexual misconduct with a priest over the phone and through video chats.

The monastery filed a civil lawsuit against the bishop and the diocese for conduct related to the investigation, which was eventually dismissed by a judge. The bishop imposed harsh penalties on the monastery, which led to the nuns issuing a statement that appeared to reject his authority in governing the monastery.

In the Vatican’s letter to the monastery about the transfer of governing authority, the Church has ordered the nuns to “withdraw and rescind your declaration” challenging the bishop’s authority and “regularize your relationship with the bishop of Fort Worth and the local Church.” The letter also added that the bishop still retains canonical authority over the monastery.

The Vatican’s letter to Bishop Olson thanked the bishop for his “heroic and thankless service to the local church and the Carmel of Arlington as pontifical commissary” and noted the “hardship and unwarranted public attention” brought to the diocese over the past year.

“We are fully aware that the health and longevity of this monastic community was always your goal, throughout the ordeals of the last year,” the letter read.

The Vatican decree, which entrusted the monastery to the Association of Christ the King, went into effect on Thursday, April 18. With this order, the association’s president, Mother Marie of the Incarnation, is now the lawful superior of the monastery.

“With the entrustment of monastery to the Association of Christ the King, you are instructed to cooperate fully with the president of the association,” the Vatican informed the nuns.

Bishop Olson said in his statement that he “will work closely with [Mother Marie], providing counsel, resources, and support as needed.” The bishop added that, per his responsibility under canon law and the rules of the Carmelite order, “I will oversee at the appropriate time the election of new leadership of the Arlington Carmel.”

He added: “I ask the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth and all people of goodwill to continue to pray with me for the Catholic Church in North Texas, in particular the Arlington Carmelites, as we persevere together in service to Christ through ministry to our community.”

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