Home Christian News Vatican Overturns Texas Bishop’s Dismissal of Carmelite Nun but Backs His Investigation

Vatican Overturns Texas Bishop’s Dismissal of Carmelite Nun but Backs His Investigation

Carmelite nun
Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, left, and Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson. (Courtesy photos)

(RNS) — The Vatican has overturned a Texas bishop’s dismissal of a Carmelite nun from her order after she was accused of breaking her vow of chastity with a priest, weighing in on a power struggle and scandal that drew national attention.

The Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life found in favor of Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, prioress of the the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas, in her appeal to remain in her order after Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson dismissed her in June 2023.

However, the dicastery upheld several of Olson’s other decisions, including his opening an investigation into the accusation that Gerlach had violated her chastity vow in her contacts with the Rev. Philip G. Johnson, a priest in the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Olson also was deemed correct in placing Gerlach on a leave of absence and issuing a canonical warning to nuns in the monastery against impeding the investigation.

In April 2023, Olson began the investigation of Gerlach, a cloistered nun of Order of Discalced Carmelites who uses a wheelchair and a feeding tube. According to reporting by Texas Monthly, Gerlach had exchanged texts, phone calls and video chats with Johnson as they sought support from each other while both battled cancer. When Gerlach began to worry that they were too close and some of the exchanges had been inappropriate, she confided in her former spiritual counselor, the Rev. Jonathan Wallis, who reported her to Olson.

Gerlach has said that she was struggling with seizures and heavily medicated while speaking with Johnson. She also claimed that one of her conversations with Olson occurred on the same day that she had been under general anesthesia and had taken fentanyl as part of a procedure to replace her feeding tube.

The investigation led to a legal battle. Gerlach sued Olson and the diocese in civil court, accusing them of invading the nuns’ privacy and taking their personal property. Meanwhile, Olson reported the nuns to the local police on allegations of marijuana use.

A Tarrant County judge dismissed the nuns’ lawsuit, and no criminal charges ever came of the marijuana allegations. But in August 2023, the nuns announced that they no longer recognized Olson’s authority. Olson responded by writing that the nuns may have incurred excommunication, calling the behavior “scandalous and schismatic.”

In their latest public statement, on April 20, the Carmelite nuns wrote: “In the past year, since April 2023, our monastery has suffered continued attack and abuse from Michael Olson, the current Bishop of Fort Worth, in an ugly attempt to seize control of our governance, finances and life including an unannounced interrogation of our Mother Prioress while she was in a medically unfit state.

“An abusive father, however, must be resisted. We take Pope Francis at his word when he invited Consecrated Women ‘to fight when, in some cases, they are treated unfairly, even within the Church…at times, by men of the Church,’” the nuns wrote.

The nuns have yet to comment on Gerlach’s reinstatement or the other determinations by the Vatican.