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Bishop Olson and Mother Teresa AgnesCourtesy photo/Diocese of Fort Worth

FORT WORTH, Texas (LifeSiteNews) — A judge has dismissed a civil suit filed by a Carmelite monastery against Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, as being outside the court’s jurisdiction in what appears to be a significant mark of potential closure to the curious case. Revelations have also come to light as part of the court proceedings regarding the identity of the priest alleged to have been involved with the Mother Prioress of the Carmelite convent.

On June 30, a Texas district court judge ruled that the suit – brought by the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity on May 3 – was dismissed “for want of subject-matter jurisdiction.” (LifeSiteNews has provided continued coverage of the complex and rapidly developing case HERE).

Responding to the ruling, Olson stated how the diocese of Fort Worth was “grateful” for the decision, which, he said, “vindicates our steadfast belief that this is a private Church matter that does not belong in the courts.” The matter would continue “through an established canonical process,” he added.

Olson re-iterated his prior requests for “continued prayers for the Diocese, Mother Teresa Agnes, and all of the nuns at the monastery.”

READ: Pope appoints long-time ally and ghostwriter of Amoris Laetitia as new Vatican doctrine chief

The nuns’ attorney Matthew Bobo stated how he would appeal the decision, and that he was “shocked, extremely disappointed, and respectfully disagree with Judge Crosby’s decision.” He argued:

This decision indicates that anyone who goes into a Catholic Church in Texas can be required to turn over his mobile device, the Church can make a copy of all of its contents, keep them for an indefinite period of time, trounce private citizens’ constitutionally-protected civil liberties, and that the Catholic Church may do all of this without any practical justification whatsoever.

And not only that, but that a Catholic Bishop may publicly defame a Catholic to the media multiple times, and Catholic priests may freely manifest Catholics’ alleged sins to the entire world without any repercussion, either from the Vatican or the civil justice system.

The judge’s ruling comes in light of a case which has been notable for its peculiarities ever since it emerged in the public sphere some weeks ago. On June 1, Olson dismissed Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach from the Carmelite order, stating that his six-week investigation had deemed her to be guilty of violating the sixth Commandment with a publicly unnamed priest. Mother Teresa is currently appealing the decision with the Vatican as part of a canonical process.

Revelations in court

While the name of the priest Mother Teresa is alleged to have committed some unspecified sin with had been notably withheld in the diocese’s prior public statements, his identity was revealed last week in court. 

The court heard an audio recording from Olson’s April 24 meeting with Mother Teresa, during which she admitted to having committed some sexual sin with a priest. While she first stated that the actions were in person and over the phone, she later stated that the events were all conducted over the phone. LifeSiteNews has obtained a copy of the audio recording played in court.

She named a Father Bernard Marie as her accomplice, saying they got to know each other after he contacted the monastery asking for prayers. Marie had been staying at a house run by the Transalpine Redemptorists in Montana for a few months, with permission of his diocesan bishop, Luis Zarama of Raleigh, but according to the community itself was only a novice and “not a member of the Transalpine Redemptorist Religious Order.”

The community added that the priest “was and remains a priest of the diocese of Raleigh,” who was not involved in public ministry and who has “resigned as a novice and returned to his diocese on May 1st 2023.”

In a statement sent to The Pillar, the Diocese of Raleigh said the priest’s name was Father Philip Johnson. The statement added that upon “returning to N.C., Fr. Philip Johnson’s priestly faculties were restricted by Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama as a precautionary measure until more clarity regarding his status can be ascertained.”

During last week’s proceedings, Olson’s vicar general Father Jonathan Wallis testified that Mother Teresa had in fact told him on December 22 and 24, and January 5 about breaking her vows of chastity. According to local news reports, Olson stated that Marie and Mother Teresa were “sexting.”

Wallis reportedly added that Mother Teresa had expressed concern to him she might be pregnant, saying she needed to see a doctor as she was “nervous about being late.”

Her attorney, Bobo, reportedly questioned Olson as to how Mother Teresa had violated her vow of chastity, stating:

As we sit here today, can you tell the court how the reverend mother violated her vow? She admitted to sexting. She alluded to ‘I’m not sure how many times.’ We don’t know if the priest actually participated because he refused to participate in the investigation.

Olson reportedly replied: 

Look, it’s her own admission that she did. I can’t [offer] much greater authority than her own admission.

Papal nuncio’s support

With the case of the Carmelite convent having been notable for its peculiarities, it has also attracted the attention of former Papal Nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who has strongly criticized Olson.

In a statement on the “scandalous persecution” of the nuns – released June 27, before the court’s audio tapes were released online – Viganò accused Olson of demonstrating “his authoritarian nature and his prejudices against Tradition, in addition to his obedience to the line of McCarrick heirs, who are still in office and indeed have been promoted to positions of prestige and power.”

Viganò’s extensive statement highlights the peculiarities and problems with the Vatican’s decree in favor of Bishop Olson, and argued that Olson’s actions against them were motivated by a desire to acquire the 70-acre property, the convent’s extensive donor list, and also in response to the convent’s new-found love of the traditional Mass and Breviary. 

Background to lawsuit and its dismissal

The case began with Olson’s April 24 visitation to the monastery and meeting with Mother Teresa, during which she “admitted for the fifth time, with clarity and freely, that she had broken her vow of chastity with a priest.” 

READ: Carmelite nuns suing Fort Worth bishop for ‘illegal, unholy assault’ on their community

One of the arguments made by the nuns’ lawyers in the subsequent civil suit lodged against the bishop and the diocese was that Mother Teresa was under the influence of medication during that April 24 meeting, prior to undergoing a procedure the next day. Olson downplayed this suggestion in a mid-June video statement, saying 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.” 

The nuns suit did not address the issue of allegations involving Mother Teresa’s actions, but instead took issue with the bishop’s manner of visitation, accusing him of “blatant violations of the law,” of removing technological items from the monastery, and of enacting an “insane amount of abuse” which “has created tremendous emotional trauma and psychological distress” on the nuns, and of having a direct effect on Mother’s physical health.

READ: Fort Worth bishop rejects ‘false claims’ about his handling of Carmelite monastery conflict

“These actions are beyond the pale of decency, have no basis in law, are unconscionable and unheard actions for a bishop,” wrote Bobo in the suit.

On May 16, Olson made the rare move of revealing to the public that he had “received a report in April 2023” that Mother Teresa had “committed sins against the Sixth Commandment and violated her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

Days later, Olson received a decree from the Vatican’s Congregation (now Dicastery) for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) granting him “full governing powers and with the faculty to appoint, if necessary, the nuns to assume the role of overseer of the community members.”

READ: Texas bishop ousts Carmelite Mother after getting Vatican backing in ongoing conflict

One day later, Olson removed Mother Teresa from the Carmelite order, stating that the investigation – begun April 24 – had found her “guilty of having violated the sixth commandment of the Decalogue and her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the Diocese of Fort Worth.”

Such a move in such a short space of time appeared almost unprecedented, especially with any details still as yet unknown at the time of her June 1 dismissal, and with the name of the alleged priest still hidden at the time. 

In a June 13 video statement, Olson made a more lengthy public address, rejecting many of Bobo’s arguments, including the allegation that Olson was looking to gain control of the convent’s real estate or donor lists: 

The donor list, the property, and all of the assets of the Carmelite monastery belong to the monastery, and are there for the care and sustenance of the Carmelite community of nuns and for their religious mission. Neither I, nor the Diocese of Fort Worth have ever made, nor do we now make any claims or designs to the contrary.

Police investigations closed

Arlington Police Department has also closed two investigations relating to the Carmelite convent. One was a case launched in response to “a local law firm raising allegations about recent actions taken at the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity.” The law firm was not Bobo’s, the police stated, which was contrary to what the diocese claimed after Bobo issued news of the police investigation in a June 7 statement. 

READ: Bishop Stika of Knoxville resigns after years of controversy, alleged cover-up of sex abuse

On June 7, Bobo issued a statement in which he stated that the Arlington Police Department had “opened a criminal investigation into the actions taken by Bishop Olson and those in the Fort Worth diocese under his control” regarding the case of the Carmelite Monastery. 

Shortly after, the Diocese of Fort Worth also issued a press release, stating Bobo was trying to “spread baseless and outrageous accusations regarding Bishop Olson’s legitimate investigation of the Carmelite Monastery.” The diocese also stated how Arlington PD was investigating the “serious concerns it [the diocese] has regarding the use of marijuana and edibles at the monastery, along with other issues that the Diocese will address at another time and in a proper forum.”

But Arlington PD told LifeSite June 30 that its investigation relating to the Carmelite monastery was now closed, due to having “determined probable cause does not exist to file criminal charges against any of the individuals involved.”

What now in the convent’s case?

The outcome of Mother Teresa’s canonical proceedings, her appeal to CICLSAL against Olson’s move to expel her from the Carmelite order is yet to be announced, however it would appear unlikely to be decided in her favor.

The CICLSAL decree – littered with errors such as wrong dates and wrong names – in favor of Olson’s actions was singed by the congregation’s notoriously anti-traditional secretary Archbishop Jose Carballo. As highlighted by Archbishop Viganò, Carballo acted similarly when moving to crush the traditional Benedictine convent of Pienza in recent months – a convent which Viganò is also supporting in its fight against the Vatican. 

READ: Archbishop Viganò founds group to help priests and religious resist ‘the Bergoglian revolution’

Carballo, Viganò argues – drawing on his own experience in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and then the Diplomatic Corps – is chiefly responsible for the “financial collapse of the Order of Friars Minor Franciscans” as well as having played a key role in the “persecution” of the Franciscans of the Immaculate.

Viganò has drawn attention to the wider aspect of the Vatican’s Cor Orans document in the Carmelite case, by which Pope Francis “literally revolutionized and distorted the contemplative life of women and instituted real forms of ‘re-education’ to which the cloistered nuns who would like to remain faithful to the Rule and religious vows are obliged.”

He stated that:

the Instruction Cor Orans and the Constitution Vultum Dei Quærere thus constitute the normative basis with which the ecclesiastical authority abuses its power to dismantle what remains of the contemplative life after the already devastating experiences of Vatican II and the disastrous reduction of religious vocations.

Viganò has subsequently also argued that Mother Teresa has now been hospitalized, after Olson had been able to “extract a confession from her that would give you [Olson] the pretext to kick her out of the Arlington Carmel.”

With Mother Teresa now dismissed from the convent and from the order, it seems unlikely that the Vatican will rule in her favor and permit a return to the position she held as of a few months ago. The case appears to have drawn to somewhat of a legal conclusion in civil courts, although the questions as yet unanswered regarding both sides of the case are more numerous than ever before.