Nun’s lawyer says police now investigating her dispute with Fort Worth Catholic bishop

Tribune Content Agency

FORT WORTH, Texas — The lawyer representing a North Texas nun in a legal dispute with the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese over allegations of sexual misconduct with a priest said Wednesday that police are reviewing the matter.

In a statement, Fort Worth lawyer Matthew Bobo said Arlington police “opened a criminal investigation” into Bishop Michael Olson and others in the diocese related to the reverend mother, who is fighting her recent dismissal from a monastery of cloistered Carmelite nuns.

Bobo told the Star-Telegram that Arlington police interviewed the Reverend Mother Teresa Gerlach and at least one other nun on Wednesday morning.

Police spokespeople did not immediately respond to Star-Telegram messages asking about their involvement.

A representative for the diocese said he needed to review Bobo’s statement before commenting.

Gerlach is appealing her dismissal over violations of her chastity vow from the Discalced Carmelite order at the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington. She is embroiled in a legal fight and a canonical battle against Olson and the diocese. The highly unusual controversy involving an order that typically shuns the public spotlight stems from an April investigation into a report that the Gerlach broke her chastity vows with an unnamed priest from outside of the diocese.

Gerlach, who is 43 and uses a wheelchair and feeding tube, denies the allegations.

Last week, the Vatican weighed in with a decree giving Olson governing authority over the monastery.

The nuns have lived 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 The Sisters of Carmel are withdrawn from the world and spend much of their day in silent prayer.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. Gerlach has been a member of the monastery for 25 years.

How the ‘sexual misconduct’ dispute began

According to court documents, Olson and other diocesan officials went to the monastery on April 24 with a “forensic” technology expert.

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.

The lawsuit alleges that Olson violated the reverend mother’s civil and canonical rights by telling her where she could sit and eat, and she was not allowed in her private bedroom despite needing constant medical care. She uses her iPad to communicate.

On April 25, the reverend mother underwent surgery, and when she returned to the monastery, she and other sisters were subjected to more questions and interrogation. Olson raised his voice, according to the lawsuit.

“The Bishop threw a temper tantrum, and in an agitated and raised voice yelled that the Monastery was shut down, no Mass would be celebrated, he then slammed the door and left the Monastery, traumatizing the Sisters,” Gerlach said in her affidavit.

Attorneys for the diocese said in a motion to dismiss the suit that Gerlach admitted to violating her chastity vows and that secular courts did not have jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters and investigations.

“The focal point of this entire dispute is an ecclesiastical investigation into sexual misconduct in violation of the Sixth Commandment — considered ‘grave misconduct’ within the Catholic Church,” wrote the attorneys with Kelly Hart & Hallman in Fort Worth.

Bobo argued that Gerlach confessed under duress because she was recovering from surgery and was on pain medication, including fentanyl.

Bobo also wrote an open letter to Bishop Olson asking him to answer questions about who reported the alleged chastity vow violation and who was the priest from outside of the diocese.

“Your Excellency: You have repeatedly and publicly accused the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of violating her vow of chastity with a priest. What is the specific allegation you have found the Reverend Mother guilty of? Because you have defamed Mother Superior publicly now on multiple occasions, please do provide the specifics,” Bobo wrote.

The diocese on Monday told the Star-Telegram that it has already provided Gerlach with the specific findings of the bishiop’s investigation.