CV NEWS FEED // A Carmelite monastery in Arlington, Texas, announced that they no longer recognize the authority of Bishop Michael Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth, a declaration that could be grounds for excommunication.
The Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity released a statement via their website on Friday, August 18, stating that they will have no future relations with the Diocese of Fort Worth or Bishop Olson and no longer recognize their authority.
“Because the salvation of our souls is our first duty before Almighty God, in order to protect the integrity of our monastic life and vocation from the grave dangers that the continued abuse to which we are being subjected threaten, we hereby state that, in conscience, we no longer recognize the authority of, and can have no further relations with, the current Bishop of Fort Worth or his officials, and forbid him or any of his officials or representatives to enter our monastery property or to have any contact or relations with the monastery or any of its nuns or novices,” read the statement.
The Diocese of Fort Worth commented on the matter Friday, saying that the monastery’s statement and apparent disregard for ecclesial authority were grave matters and could be grounds for future canonical proceedings against the monastery and possible excommunication for Mother Gerlach and other nuns who comply.
“This has hurt me as a friend and as the bishop because of the deep wound this has cut in our unity as the Diocese of Fort Worth. Thus, it is with deep sorrow that I must inform the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth, that Mother Teresa Agnes, thereby, may have incurred upon herself latae sententiae,( i.e., by her own schismatic actions), excommunication,” said Bishop Olson. “The other nuns, depending on their complicity in Mother Teresa Agnes’ publicly, scandalous and schismatic actions could possibly have incurred the same latae sententiae excommunication.”
The statement follows months of legal and canonical issues surrounding the monastery. In April, Bishop Olson and three diocesean investigators visited the convent to investigate claims that its superior, Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, had violated her vow of chastity with a then-unnamed priest who was later disclosed to be Father Philip Johnson of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Gerlach and her lawyers argue that she made the admission of guilt while she was heavily sedated after a serious surgery. Olson argues that Gerlach was fully responsive and made the admission multiple times.
A civil legal battle ensued after the search, as the monastery hired an attorney, Michael Bobo, to file a civil lawsuit, seeking $1 million, against the diocese’ for illegally seizing the monastery’s electronic device, saying that Olson purely wanted the device to access the monastery’s donor list.
The civil proceedings climaxed after both parities sought criminal investigations into each other, with the dioceses’ being investigated for illegal entry and seizure and the convent being investigated for alleged drug use after photos taken within the convent of marijuna and other drug paraphenlia surfaced.
In addition to the civil proceedings, the Diocese of Fort Worth pursued canonical methods to have Gerlach dismissed from the monastery. Gerlach filed a canonical motion to dismiss the attempt.
The Vatican appointed Bishop Olson as the pontifical commissary of the convent in May, giving him full rights to govern and decide on any matters regarding the convent.
In the Aug. 18 statement, the monastery says that they will no longer recognize Olson’s authority after enduring what they have called spiritual and psychological abuse at his hands.
“In recent months, our monastery in general and our Mother Prioress in particular have been subjected to unprecedented interference, intimidation, aggression, private and public humiliation, and spiritual manipulation as the direct result of the attitudes and ambitions of the current Bishop of Fort Worth in respect of our Reverend Mother Prioress, ourselves, and our property,” said the statement.
In addition to their own statement, the sisters included a statement of support from former nuncio to the United States Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. Archbishop Viagno served as the apostolic nuncio to the United States from 2011 to 2016, and he is known to be an opponent of the Franciscan papacy.
“The Sisters of the Arlington Carmel have an example of heroic resistance against corrupt power in the martyrdom of the Carmelites of Compiègne, who knew how to face the guillotine in order not to submit to the constitutional oath of a revolutionary government,” wrote Viagno. “It will not be prelates without either dignity or faith who bend the bold resistance of souls in love with Christ.”
To conclude their statement, the monastery said that they would be making liturgical changes, celebrating their Masses and Divine Office in the old Latin Rite.
“In order to better render glory to God and more profoundly to enter into the contemplation of His Sacred Mysteries,” the nuns said they have decided “to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Divine Office, the sacraments, sacramentals, and other rites according to the older forms of the Roman rite according to the traditional Discalced Carmelite usages.”
Gerlach has not been excommunicated from the Church yet. Bishop Olson has said that he will turn to Rome for guidance on how to proceed with the matter and asks for the prayers of the faithful.
“I stand ready to assist Mother Teresa Agnes on her path of reconciliation and healing. Please join me in praying for the nuns, and the restoration of order and stability,” said Olson.
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