Tuesday, June 13, 2023

The drama and scandal in Fort Worth keep playing out for all to see

Bishop Olson: Carmelite prioress admitted 5 times to breaking chastity vow

Bishop Michael Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth in a statement shared on YouTube denied that he abused his authority when investigating a prioress of a Carmelite monastery and alleged that she admitted, on five separate occasions, that she had broken her vow of chastity. 

The dispute between the monastery and the diocese began in April when Olson launched a canonical investigation into an alleged sexual affair between the monastery’s prioress, Reverend Mother Teresa Gerlach, and an unnamed priest from outside the diocese. 

The diocese has called the alleged misconduct “grave” but has not publicized the exact nature of the affair. On June 1 the bishop issued a decree dismissing Gerlach from religious life.

Following the investigation, the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity and Gerlach filed a $1 million lawsuit against the bishop and the diocese. The lawsuit alleged that in the course of the diocese’s investigation into Gerlach’s conduct, the bishop demanded access to phones and computers and subjected the nuns to lengthy questioning in late April.

The diocese filed a response with the court, which argued that this is an internal Church matter investigating alleged violations of the Sixth Commandment and should not be subject to the civil court system. 

On May 31, the Vatican formally recognized the bishop’s authority over the monastery and the investigation. The monastery has continued its civil lawsuit and in early June filed theft and defamation charges against the bishop and the diocese.

The bishop’s statement on YouTube

In an eight-minute-long YouTube video released by the diocese on Sunday, June 11, Bishop Olson said he decided to make a public statement because “others” had brought the matter into “inappropriate venues” such as the media and civil courts.

“These attempts on the part of others have asserted baseless and false claims into the public mind, causing confusion among you, the faithful,” Olson said. “A confusion that I would like to clarify for you at this time.”

In the video, the bishop alleged that Gerlach admitted to violations of the vow of chastity on four separate occasions before Olson came to the monastery to request access to phones and computers as part of the investigation.

He said Vicar General Father Jonathan Wallis and Sister Francis Therese of the monastery were present when Gerlach made these admissions.

“She voluntarily made these admissions on four different days with clarity and consistency, but without naming the priest,” Olson said. “To be clear, she made these admissions outside of the sacrament of confession.”

Olson said she admitted for a fifth time April 24 to breaking her vow of chastity and provided the name of the priest with whom she allegedly violated her vow of chastity.

The bishop said she made the admission in front of him, Sister Francis Therese, Chancellor and Moderator of the Curia Msgr. E. James Hart, and Director of Safe Environment Sandra Schrader-Farry. 

The reverend mother’s lawyer has claimed that she never had sexual relations with a priest and that she was under the influence of pain medication after an operation when the bishop questioned her and does not remember the admission. Olson is now saying that this conversation took place before she had the operation.

“This conversation took place the late afternoon of the day before she had surgery; not after the surgery,” Olson said. “She was not under the influence of anesthesia. She was clear and lucid and had normal use of her physical and mental faculties at that time. Claims to the contrary are false and baseless and untrue.” 

Olson also contested the monastery’s characterization of the events, claiming that the phone and computers “were requested calmly and given freely by Mother Teresa Agnes for purposes of the internal inquiry into this matter.”

The bishop said he reported the priest to his superiors after being given his name and said the priest refused to either confirm or deny the allegations. He said the priest is not currently assigned and has restricted faculties. The reverend mother has been dismissed from religious life. 

Olson also denied allegations that he is seeking information about the monastery’s donor list and said that accusations that he and the diocese are spying on the monastery are “baseless, ludicrous, and not true.”

Amid the investigation, Olson further alleged that individuals closely associated with the monastery have come to him with information about illegal drug activity, but did not elaborate on specifically who is accused of possessing the drugs. The diocese also released photos, which they claimed show marijuana edibles in the monastery.

“I want you to know that this evidence and information was immediately reported and turned over by the Diocese of Fort Worth to the Arlington Police Department,” the bishop said.

While the bishop’s investigation is ongoing, he has put restrictions on the monastery, which prevent the nuns from accessing daily Mass and regular confession. The restrictions also prevent lay participation in the Mass. The monastery requested that the bishop lift these restrictions, but he said they will stay in place as long as the civil lawsuit remains in place.

Olson also requested that the Dallas Carmelite Auxiliary halt a fundraiser that is intended to help the monastery with its legal funds. He accused the auxiliary of being “complicit in rebellious disobedience.”

The bishop also asked for prayers for the diocese, the monastery, the reverend mother, and for himself.


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