Mutinous nuns file and then withdraw a restraining order motion

This happened last week.

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

Legal and ecclesiastical tensions escalated between the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Arlington and the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth after a group of sisters filed for a temporary restraining order on Monday against Bishop Michael Olson and the Association of Christ the King.

Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, Sister Francis Therese and Sister Joseph Marie are seeking the order to prevent Olson and the association from entering and having authority over the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in south Arlington.

The move comes days after the Vatican issued a decree placing the governance of the nuns under the authority of the Association of Christ the King, with its president serving the monastery as the monastery’s superior. The nuns issued a statement in opposition of the new leadership, equating the change of leadership as a “hostile takeover.”

“If Rome wishes to ‘save face’ and to sweep the issue of the abuse of the Bishop under the carpet and move on regardless, this is unacceptable,” the nuns wrote.


Matthew Wilson, professor at Southern Methodist University who specializes in politics and religion, described the latest disputes between the nuns and the bishop as a “remarkable event.”

Religious orders, such as nuns, are not part of a diocese per se, Wilson said, but are meant to have a “cooperative and respectful relationship” with the local bishop. Most religious orders are governed by a global superstructure.

“The Catholic Church, by its nature, by its structure, is hierarchical and deferential and, ultimately, authority in the church proceeds from Rome,” Wilson said. “If you submit an appeal to Rome, and Rome comes up with a solution, you can’t just defy that.”

See here, here, and here for some background. There was to have been a hearing on this on April 30, but before that happened the nuns backed down.

Following the sudden cancellation of an April 30 court hearing between the Arlington Carmelite nuns and Fort Worth Catholic Bishop Michael Olson, lawyers representing the diocese told the Fort Worth Report that the nuns withdrew their request for a temporary restraining order without explanation.

Michael Anderson, an attorney representing Olson and the diocese in civil matters, said the opposing side withdrew its claims before the hearing, which was scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday. Matthew Bobo, an attorney representing the nuns on civil matters, declined to comment.


Matthew Wilson is a professor at Southern Methodist University who specializes in politics and religion. He said civil courts have been reluctant to weigh in on the dispute because of previous rulings over the conflict being an ecclesiastical matter rather than a legal one.

Questions over who has ownership of access to the physical facilities could be disputed in civil court, Wilson said. However, the more difficult issue at hand, Wilson said, is how the dispute will impact the nuns’ relationship with the diocese and the Vatican.

Wilson said the nuns’ response to the decree places the sisters “in a much more different situation” both ecclesiastically and within the court of public opinion.

“In civil court, they can theoretically win the right to be a group of women who own a piece of property,” Wilson said. “What they cannot win in civil court is the right to continue to be Catholic, and that is where I think the real rub is in this situation.”

The Arlington nuns wrote in an April 20 statement that they are waiting on a response from the Vatican regarding their concerns over Olson’s actions.

Whether the disputes continue in the court of civil law, the canonical saga will continue, Wilson said.

“No matter what the civil court rules, it doesn’t help them ecclesiastically,” he said. “And I think that’s their biggest problem.”

I bet Professor Wilson has spoken to the media a lot more lately than he ever had before. I don’t have anything to add here, I’m just following this story because it’s absolutely fascinating.

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