22 April 2024, The Tablet

Texas nuns defiant at Vatican order to ‘regularise’

The Arlington Carmel said submission to an association was “in effect a hostile takeover that we cannot in conscience accept”.

Texas nuns defiant at Vatican order to ‘regularise’

Nuns of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, including Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach (front right).
Sensus Fidelium / Youtube screenshot

The Vatican ordered a monastery of Carmelite nuns in Texas that had been feuding with the local bishop to submit to the governance of a Carmelite association of monasteries.

An order directed the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington to “regularise your relationship with the Bishop of Fort Worth and the local church” after its bitter, year-long feud with Bishop Michael Olson.

However, in a statement published on their website on 20 April, the nuns rejected the order. “The ‘request’ of the Carmelite Association of Christ the King (USA) to take over the governance of our monastery, made with the ‘counsel and full support’ of Bishop Olson, which Rome has accepted without our knowledge or consent, is in effect a hostile takeover that we cannot in conscience accept,” the statement read.

It added, “neither the president of the Association of Christ the King, nor any delegate of hers, is welcome to enter our monastery at this time”.

Olson first intervened when the superior of the convent, Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, was alleged to have had a sexual relationship with a priest. A search of the monastery premises also found drug paraphernalia. Gerlach was dismissed from religious life, but the nuns sued the bishop in civil court, challenging his authority over them. That suit was dismissed.

The Vatican appointed Olson as pontifical commissary of the monastery while it reviewed the matter, but that appointment lapses with the new decree.  

In a letter to Olson announcing the new governance structure, the Dicastery for Consecrated Life commended the bishop, saying: “We are fully aware that the health and longevity of this monastic community was always your goal, throughout the ordeals of the last year.”

In a statement acknowledging the Vatican decree, issued before the Arlington Carmel rejected it, Olson said: “It is my prayer that the Arlington Carmel will now have the internal leadership needed to save the monastery and enable it to flourish once again, in unity with the Catholic Church.”

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