ARLINGTON, Texas (LifeSiteNews) — After many months’ dispute between Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth and the Carmelite monastery in Arlington, Texas, the religious community has declared that its members “no longer recognize the authority” of Olson, prompting a warning of excommunication from the prelate.
In a statement issued August 18, the Mother Prioress and the Chapter of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity made a definitive and signal move in the convoluted and fast-paced case, which has been ongoing for some months. They stated that Bishop Michael Olson, the local diocesan bishop, was no longer recognized by the community in the convent, and was forbidden from entering the monastery property.
Therefore, because the salvation of our souls is our first duty before Almighty God, in order to protect the integrity of our monastic life and vocation from the grave dangers that the continued abuse to which we are being subjected threaten, we hereby state that, in conscience, we no longer recognize the authority of, and can have no further relations with, the current Bishop of Fort Worth or his officials, and forbid him or any of his officials or representatives to enter our monastery property or to have any contact or relations with the monastery or any of its nuns or novices.
No one who abuses us as has the current Bishop of Fort Worth, has any right to our cooperation or obedience.
This decision came about, the nuns wrote, due to the recent months which saw “unprecedented interference, intimidation, aggression, private and public humiliation and spiritual manipulation as the direct result of the attitudes and ambitions of the current Bishop of Fort Worth in respect of our Reverend Mother Prioress, ourselves and of our property.”
As LifeSiteNews has extensively reported, the Carmelite monastery and its prioress, Mother Teresa Gerlach, have been at the center of a dispute with Olson since late April. A culmination was reached on June 1, when Olson dismissed Mother Teresa 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.
In a civil court hearing, an audio recording from Olson’s first April 24 meeting with Mother Teresa was played, 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.
NEW: Audio recording of Bishop Michael Olson’s April 24 meeting with Mother Teresa Agnes of Arlington Carmel, heard during court proceedings this week, as the case of the Fort Worth Carmelites rumbles on.
She appears to admit details of a sexual transgression, & provides former… pic.twitter.com/ipBOsScURQ
— Michael Haynes 🇻🇦 (@MLJHaynes) June 30, 2023
But in their recent August 18 statement, the Carmelite community outlined “its complete confidence in the personal and moral integrity of its Mother Prioress and in her leadership.”
The nuns argued how “our filial trust has been abused by the personal and public behaviors of a man who, in the pursuit of his unspecified personal ends, does not fear to shout at nuns or to humiliate them in private and in public when they protest that their rights have been ignored, who does not hesitate to violate their sacred enclosure through his officials, and whose actions in respect of personal property and privacy are more than seriously questionable.”
Referencing the priority of “justice,” along with “our own spiritual and psychological safety,” the community stated, “we must remain independent of this Bishop until such time as he repents of the abuse to which he has subjected us, apologizes in person to our community for it and accepts to make due public reparation.”
Expectation of sanctions
The Carmelites downplayed suggestions of any widespread rejection of authority, stating that “we remain utterly faithful to the doctrine of the Catholic Church and to affirm that the Pope and the Bishop of Fort Worth, whomever they are today or whomever they may be in the future, shall always be prayed for in this monastery, most especially in the Canon of the Mass.”
While acknowledging the likelihood of “sanctions,” the community argued that “we are breaking Communion with no one.” Instead, they wrote that:
… the abuse to which we have been subjected is so gravely unjust and intolerably destructive of the vocation to which we are vowed before Almighty God, that in conscience that abuse cannot be cooperated with. This is no rejection of any article of Catholic faith or morals. Rather, it is a statement that, in these particular and peculiar circumstances, in conscience before Almighty God, we cannot permit this Diocesan Bishop to continue his abusive behavior towards us any longer.
Much speculation has been raised regarding the bishop’s actions towards the Carmel, with the argument made that it was fueled by a desire to clamp down on yet another monastic community which had developed a love for the Church’s traditional liturgy and sacraments.
The nuns now publicly attested that they have indeed become devoted to the ancient liturgy, or the Latin Mass, and that henceforth they would only use the traditional Carmelite use of the Roman rite. This would help “better to render unto Almighty God the glory that is His due,” they wrote, while adding that this decision also was expected to “occasion even more abuse from the same source.”
They also hinted at possible foul play in the legal and canonical disputes which have been in operation over the past months, stating that “we cannot afford to invest our spiritual or material resources in vain disputes with authorities whose agendas are utterly foreign to ours and whose means to influence the outcomes of our appeals are beyond anything we can match.”
Bishop Olson issues excommunication warning
One day after the nuns’ statement, Olson responded by warning the Diocese of Fort Worth that due to the Carmel’s declaration “Mother Teresa Agnes, thereby, may have incurred upon herself latae sententiae,( i.e., by her own schismatic actions), excommunication.”
“The other nuns,” he added, “depending on their complicity in Mother Teresa Agnes’ publicly, scandalous and schismatic actions could possibly have incurred the same latae sententiae excommunication.”
Olson ordered that the convent remain “closed to public access until such time as the Arlington Carmel publicly disavows itself of these scandalous and schismatic actions of Mother Teresa Agnes,” which stood in direct contradiction to the Carmel’s statement of being “open to all who, in good faith wish to pray there or to participate in the liturgical rites we celebrate, regardless of any protestations that those who have abused us may wish to make in this respect.”
However, Olson’s statement left questions to be answered, particularly regarding the status of excommunication. He did not pronounce any excommunication had been incurred, but merely suggested that it might have been automatically enacted by the prioress’ actions.
Following the publication of their statement, the Carmelite nuns have begun a weeklong retreat, meaning that Olson is unlikely to be able to make contact with the nuns during that time, nor does their statement suggest that he would be allowed to at a future date.
Archbishop Viganò gives support
The nuns’ statement, while met with an excommunication warning from Olson, was supported by former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who has taken a key and favorable interest in the case since its origin.
The archbishop published his own response in support of the Carmel, depicting their actions as a form of obedience to God rather obedience to a “general subversion,” or a “betrayal of ecclesiastical authority.”
He praised those who out of a “wish to remain faithful to Christ and the perennial Tradition of the Church… make themselves canonically independent of those in the Church who act against the Church, of those who in the name of God act against God.”
Viganò also suggested ulterior motives for Olson’s actions regarding the Carmel:
On the one hand there is the ideological fury of the Vatican Dicastery for Religious, headed by an ultra-modernist prefect and a corrupt and ruthless secretary, both of whom are protected by Bergoglio; on the other, there are the immediate interests of the Holy See and the local ordinaries, which are primarily financial in nature.
The archbishop has previously warned that the support from the Vatican’s Congregation (now Dicastery) for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) for Olson is part of a wider endeavor by the congregation’s notoriously anti-traditional secretary Archbishop Jose Carballo to crush traditional groups of monastics.
Given the nuns’ rejection of Olson’s authority, it now remains to be seen what practical steps will be taken by either the bishop or the Vatican.