Vatican gives Texas bishop authority to investigate report that nun broke chastity vow

Tribune Content Agency

FORT WORTH, Texas — The Vatican issued a decree Wednesday giving Bishop Michael Olson governing authority over a Carmelite monastery in Arlington embroiled in a legal battle against the bishop and the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese.

Bishop Michael Olson is investigating allegations that the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach violated her chastity vows with a priest from outside of the diocese.

Gerlach and Sister Francis Therese sued the diocese and the bishop, arguing that Pope Francis has governing authority over the the nuns and that the bishop overstepped his authority when he kept priests from celebrating daily Mass at the monastery.

The Fort Worth Catholic Diocese said in a statement Wednesday that the Holy See had issued a decree appointing Olson as the pontifical commissary of the monastery.

“As Pontifical Commissary, Bishop Olson is the Pope’s representative in this matter,” the statement read.

Olson has been conducting an investigation into a report that Gerlach violated her chastity vows with a priest. Matthew Bobo, an attorney representing the nuns, could not be reached for comment Wednesday regarding the statement from the diocese. Bobo told the Star-Telegram previously that the accusations against Gerlach are “absolutely false and have no basis.”

Gerlach uses a wheelchair and relies on constant medical care. She uses a feeding tube and is unable to speak and must rely on her cell phone and iPad for writing.

After receiving the report, Olson “demanded” that the reverend mother turn over her laptop, iPad and cell phone, and told Gerlach and Sister Francis Therese that they could not handle the administrative duties of the monastery.

Meanwhile, supporters of the Carmelite nuns gathered at a park near the monastery Wednesday afternoon to pray. Several supporters, including Janice Vonada of Keller, brought red roses to the monastery gates.

Vonada described how she attended Mass daily at the monastery when she lived in Arlington, and how she would ask the nuns for prayer when her husband experienced health problems.

The nuns have lived quietly on 72 wooded acres near South Bowen Road and West Sublett Road since 1958. The Sisters of Carmel are withdrawn from the world and spend much of their day in silent prayer. The order has existed since 1562.

In a letter to the nuns, Olson stated that Gerlach and the nuns orchestrated a hate campaign against him and blamed them for bringing the “attention of international media,” CBS Texas reported Monday.