All but one of the bishop's measures confirmed

Vatican decides in monastery dispute – prioress may remain a nun

Fort Worth - Mother Teresa Agnes will not be dismissed from her order – the Vatican has ruled in her favour against her bishop. However, the appeal against her dismissal was the only success that the Carmelite nuns of Arlington were able to achieve in Rome.

Published  on 23.05.2024 at 11:51  – 

In the dispute over the Carmelite convent in Arlington the Vatican has largely approved the measures criticised by the nuns and taken by local bishop Michael Olson. Only the dismissal of the prioress, Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, was declared null and void by the order's dicastery, according to the decrees published by the diocese of Fort Worth (Texas/USA) on Wednesday. The Vatican authority rejected the nuns' complaints about the bishop's investigations into their convent due to alleged violations of the prioress' vow of chastity. The canonical warning issued to the nine nuns, threatening them with punishment if they continued to obstruct the bishop's investigation, is also lawful. Olson had suspended Mother Teresa Agnes as prioress in April 2023 as a precautionary measure; this decree was also confirmed by the religious dicastery.

Olson and the convent have been arguing for months about whether the allegations against the prioress are true and whether Olson exercised his supervisory powers lawfully. At times, the dispute was also before a state court. According to the documents now published, the nuns have since withdrawn their complaint. In the course of the conflict, the sisters were accused of accused of schismatic acts. The Vatican had previously had already backed the bishop in the conflict.

Dismissal of prioress from order null and void despite chastity offence

The Vatican considers Mother Teresa Agnes' violation of her vow of chastity with a priest from another diocese to be proven. However, the offences against the sixth prohibition committed by telephone and internet were not linked to coercion and violence. The sister had also not abused her office by using the means of communication available only to her as prioress for the offences. The bishop had argued this in his decree of dismissal. "However, this argument does not prove that the misappropriation of her exclusive access to a mobile phone and internet access constituted an act of abuse of her authority to coerce another person to perform sexual acts. Moreover, Mother Teresa Agnes had no real or even imagined authority over her alleged accomplice, an adult male (and ordained cleric), which would have placed him under the authority of Mother Teresa Agnes as prioress," the decree states. Furthermore, the dicastery states that the nun was not granted the 15-day appeal period prescribed by law. The decree is therefore null and void from the outset.

Bishop Olson welcomed the Vatican's decision and emphasised that he had made all decisions for the good of the convent and Mother Teresa Agnes, as required by canon law. In April, the dicastery of the order had approved appointment of Olson as papal representative for the monastery and handed over the to the Carmelite Association, to which the Arlington Carmel belongs. "This appointment by the dicastery offers Mother Teresa Agnes the opportunity to seek reparation and recovery in order to live as a faithful member of the Carmelite Order in accordance with her religious vows, but without the burdens associated with the office of prioress," the bishop said in a statement published on Wednesday. The leadership of the order also ensures that the sisters of the convent can be heard, properly cared for and supported in their religious life in full communion with the Catholic Church.

Superior appointed by the Vatican hopes for conversion and renewal

Also on Wednesday, the diocese published a statement by the superior appointed by the VaticanMother Marie of the Incarnation, President of the Carmelite Association of Christ the King. In it, she expressed her conviction that the sisters themselves are the best source for the necessary conversion that is needed to restore peace in the community after an eventful year.

The dispute over the convent and its superior has been smouldering for months. The superior is said to have admitted a breach of her vow of chastity. As a result, the bishop had the Carmel searched to secure evidence. The dispute came to light in mid-May last year after the sisters the sisters turned to the public to discuss a lawsuitto inform the public about a lawsuit against the search and seizure in their convent. In July, the state court seized dismissed the complaintthe police launched an investigation based on a investigation based on a complaint by the diocese about alleged drug abuse in the monastery. in the convent. Olson maintained the allegations against the superior despite the nuns' protests continued to maintain. The Discalced Carmelites are a religious order under papal law and are therefore not subject to the diocesan bishop. However, as the Arlington Carmel is not part of a religious federation, the local bishop has special powers of supervision. (fxn)

Decrees of the Dicastery of the Order

The Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which is responsible for religious orders, is responsible for deciding on appeals against the decrees of the bishop. The Diocese of Fort Worth has published four decrees:

Appeals can be lodged against the decrees, in which case the Apostolic Signature, as the supreme administrative court of the Church, will decide. The decrees were issued on 30 April and the deadline for appeals is 60 days. Bishop Olson has not announced any appeals, the nuns have not yet commented on this.