Arlington nun mutiny update

Things remain wild in Arlington, that’s all I can say. The story starts on Thursday with the Vatican attempting to impose its order on the situation.

Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582), Doctor of the Church and co-founder of the Discalced Carmelites

A Carmelite monastery that has engaged in a yearlong feud with Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson will be governed by a religious association of monasteries going forward — but must normalize relations with the bishop, per a Vatican order.

The Association of Christ the King in the United States of America will oversee the “government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges” of the Arlington-based Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity. This decision ends the bishop’s role as the pontifical commissary, which had previously given him governing authority over the monastery.

“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,” Olson said in a statement.

A feud between the monastery and the bishop began in late April of last year when the bishop launched an investigation into the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach. She was ultimately dismissed from religious life for alleged sexual misconduct with a priest over the phone and through video chats.

The monastery filed a civil lawsuit against the bishop and the diocese for conduct related to the investigation, which was eventually dismissed by a judge. The bishop imposed harsh penalties on the monastery, which led to the nuns issuing a statement that appeared to reject his authority in governing the monastery.

In the Vatican’s letter to the monastery about the transfer of governing authority, the Church has ordered the nuns to “withdraw and rescind your declaration” challenging the bishop’s authority and “regularize your relationship with the bishop of Fort Worth and the local Church.” The letter also added that the bishop still retains canonical authority over the monastery.

See here and here for a bit of background, though as you can see just from the excerpt above there’s a lot more to all this. I should note that I’m accustomed to the word “monastery” being used to describe a place for monks, and “convent” being used for nuns, but as noted I’m a long-lapsed Catholic so my knowledge of the nomenclature may well be outdated. Be that as it may, as far as this decree went, the nuns were not having it.

The Arlington nuns who sued the Bishop of Fort Worth last year have fiercely rejected a new decree from Vatican City that they be governed by an association of monasteries, calling the decision a hostile takeover.

“We are not things to be traded or given away in backroom deals,” the nuns wrote in a four-page response to the decree posted to their website Saturday afternoon.

The statement reaffirms their position they do not recognize the authority of Bishop Michael Olson, who they have been in a dispute with since April of last year.

It also says no one from the Association of Christ the King, the organization the Vatican says now governs the monastery, is permitted on the grounds of the monastery in Arlington.


The nuns wrote that they welcome the fact that Rome no longer recognizes Olson as being in charge, although they said they were not involved in any discussions about new governance and unaware of the plans until the Fort Worth Diocese delivered a decree and letter Thursday.

The Carmelite nuns appeared to have removed a online statement from August about Olson. That was one of the directives delivered this week in a letter from a Vatican Secretary. However, the new statement reaffirmed their position, including a 2022 quote from a video message from the Pope.

“We take Pope Francis at his word when he invited Consecrated Women “to fight when, in some cases, they are treated unfairly, even within the Church…at times, by men of the Church.”

The Star-Telegram, in whose Sunday email digest I first noticed this update, has more.

In a statement published on their website, the nuns of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity said that the president of the National Association of Christ the King, Mother Marie of the Incarnation, and anyone associated with her and Bishop Michael Olson of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth are not welcome on the monastery property.


The nuns wrote that accepting the “takeover” would endanger the integrity of the monastery, threaten the vocations of individual nuns and the liturgical and spiritual life as well as the material assets of the monastery.

In response, the diocese said in a statement that the Holy See has acted toward healing the Arlington Carmel and the nuns in the community and not simply the former prioress and her former councilors.

“The most recent statement of the Arlington Carmel’s former leadership is sad and troubling because it manifests a skewed and selective misunderstanding of the nature of the Catholic Church and of the charism of the monastic life. It is a slap at the nuns who are their sisters in the Carmelite order,” the statement read. “It is an apparent rejection of the ministry of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.”

The sisters accused Olson of publishing the documents from the Vatican on the diocese’s website Thursday without notifying the monastery. The nuns said they received photo copies of two of the documents later in the day.

The nuns said they have not received a response to several “recourses” sent to the Vatican appealing decisions that Olson made when he was acting as pontifical commissary of the monastery. Olson dismissed the Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes from the order after he investigated reports that she violated her chastity vows with a priest. The nuns said that they received a letter from the Vatican in February promising the responses.

The nuns called the April 18 letters “perplexing” since the recourses are not usually preempted.

The statement also described how the nuns have wanted a Latin Mass, which they said Olson has opposed. Pope Francis has restricted the celebration of the Latin Mass.

The nuns also said they fully accept without reserve that Pope Francis is the Pope and enjoys full papal authority and that Olson is the legitimate, current Bishop of Fort Worth “with all of the authority that this office confers.”

But the nuns still reject Olson’s authority over them.

“In line with our own rights, for reasons of conscience, for the good of our souls and to protect the integrity of our life and vocations, in these extraordinary circumstances, we have had to withdraw our cooperation in respect of the unjust exercise of any authority over us by the current Bishop of Fort Worth. Let it be said clearly — to borrow a phrase — that authority without integrity is no authority at all.”

I very much hope there will be a multi-part prestige podcast about this whole saga once it has concluded. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye open for more news. This is way more exciting than anything I ever experienced back at Sacred Heart church and elementary school in the 70s, that much is for sure.

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