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FORT WORTH, Texas (LifeSiteNews) — A group of Carmelite nuns in the Diocese of Fort Worth have been reportedly told by the bishop that daily Mass and Confession will not be provided for them, following their lawsuit against the bishop for his “abuse” of power and alleged violation of the nuns’ civil and canonical rights.

Fort Worth’s Bishop Michael Olson sent a letter to the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, stating that “at the present moment, daily Mass and Confession cannot be conveniently provided for the members of [the] Monastery” nor would the nuns be able to welcome any lay faithful to attend ceremonies at the convent: “nor can the courtesy of participation at Mass at the Monastery be extended to the lay faithful.”

He added that such a measure was directly due to the lawsuit the nuns have filed against the bishop – following his string of reportedly un-canonical actions against the community – a lawsuit which Olson claimed has “incited hatred and animosity against me because of my initiation of the investigation.” 

Explaining the measures, Olson stated:

This is because you and Mother Teresa Agnes (Gerlach) of Jesus Crucified, O.C.D., have lodged a civil lawsuit, together with a request for a protection order, against me and the Diocese of Fort Worth, containing a false narrative relative to the pending investigation, which has led to local, national, and international media coverage and has incited hatred and animosity against me because of my initiation of the investigation and has hindered the freedom of my ecclesiastical power to conduct that investigation. Further obstruction of the investigation has occurred since you and certain members of the Monastery have refused to cooperate with the investigation.

According to a press release issued by the nuns’ lawyer Matthew Bobo, “all priests of the diocese have reportedly received a letter from Bishop Olson forbidding them to serve the needs of the Carmelite sisters and novices. They have not had the opportunity for confession since April.”

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

“This latest salvo from Bishop Olson is an unbelievably extreme display of arrogance, vengeance and hard-heartedness directed toward Sister Francis Therese and the other cloistered sisters whose religious order, daily since the 1950s, have joyfully and tirelessly prayed the Divine Office (universal prayer of the Catholic Church) for the Church and the world,” said Matthew Bobo, the nuns’ civil attorney.

Background to Mass ban

Olson’s letter comes as the latest development surrounding the Carmelite convent, since he made an unannounced visitation to the nuns on April 24. As LifeSite has reported, Olson announced to the community of nuns April 24 that he would make an unscheduled visit to the monastery, giving them only 30 minutes warning. He was accompanied by Monsignor E. James Hart (the diocesan chancellor), and Sandra Schrader-Farry (the director of safe environment).

The three reportedly “demanded” to meet Mother Agnes and Sr. Therese, who is Mother Agnes’ “full-time primary caregiver,” since the Mother has to use a catheter, feeding tube, and an intravenous drip for 10 hours a day.

As revealed by the nuns’ subsequent civil lawsuit, Olson also demanded that an un-identified male forensic technology specialist be given access to the nuns’ pontifical enclosure, in addition to “summarily demanding that the Reverend Mother turn over her computer, iPad, and cellular phone, to him personally.” 

The bishops reportedly dictated where the Mother was to “eat, sit, talk to, whether she can use technology and whether and when she could leave the monastery,” adding a warning of her dismissal from the monastery if she attempted to make a phone call without prior approval from an “Administrator.” However, the suit adds “that at that time no Administrator had been effectuated through a singular decree as required.”

The nuns later informed Olson that in order for him to question the other members of the community, the sisters would have to be properly briefed “about the purpose, object, and scope of any intended questioning.” At this, Olson reportedly “threw a juvenile and unseemly temper tantrum, in an agitated and raised voice claimed that the Monastery was shut down and no Mass would be offered for the Sisters or the parishioners, slammed the door and left the Monastery.”

Days later, as recounted by the nuns’ suit, Olson advised “in an act of pure evil…that he would prevent priests to come and celebrate Mass at the Monastery for their parish.” 

This is nothing but [vindictive] petty punishment. There is nothing Christ-like about it.

The nuns had filed their suit on May 3, and on May 10 filed for immediate temporary injunction against the bishop. Only on May 16 did the diocese finally reveal the purpose behind its actions. A statement issued online read that:

Bishop Michael Olson received a report in April 2023 that the Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes of Jesus Crucified Gerlach, O.C.D., committed sins against the Sixth Commandment and violated her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the Diocese of Fort Worth. The priest’s superiors have been notified.

It further stated that “an ecclesiastical investigation into the report of the grave misconduct was initiated,” and claimed that “Mass is being offered for the sisters on Sundays.”

Legal struggles continue

According to Matthew Bobo, such a statement is a violation of “the confidentiality of an internal investigation and the right to a good reputation and the right to protect her [Mother Teresa’s] privacy—that she had allegedly admitted to sins against the sixth commandment. Public defamation of character is both a grave sin and a violation of both Texas civil law and Catholic canon law.” 

In his May 30 press release, Bobo argued that “despite the Bishop’s contention, Mother Superior has not admitted to any grave misconduct that would warrant his extreme and emotionally damaging measures.”

“I cannot imagine the heartbreak and psychological suffering these prayerful women—set apart from the world to pray for it—are experiencing at the hands of their God-given shepherd,” he added.

The attorney criticized Olson’s statement on how a priest to say Mass cannot “currently ‘be conveniently provided’ for their spiritual needs even though it was apparently convenient for years prior to his multiple invasions of the monastery which he conducted without allowing the opportunity for the sisters to have counsel.”

Bobo is arguing that Olson’s actions are both civilly and canonically illegal. While Bobo is representing the convent in its civil lawsuit, the nuns’ canonical representation is not one of their choosing. 

Their canon lawyer was rejected by the bishop, who selected a canonist of his own choosing to represent the sisters. As noted by Bobo, the nuns “were not provided the opportunity for canonical counsel of their choosing by the Bishop prior to any of his visits or hour-long interrogations and then he later rejected four canonical representatives of the Mother’s choosing as well as one procurator before he assigned her one of his own choosing.”

Such an action, added Bobo, “is a violation of the most basic precept of justice according to natural law—the right to choose one’s own legal counsel.”

As argued extensively by the Carmelites’ suit, Olson’s moves against the community appear to be in violation of the Church’s Canon Law. While the local bishop does have some say in certain elements pertaining to a religious community – as outlined in the Vatican’s controversial 2018 document Cor Orans – the suit argues that “none of these cases exist in the present matter. Defendants [Olson and the diocese] can show no authority to prove they meet any of these criteria.”

As regards Olson’s alleged threats to remove nuns from the community, Mother Agnes gave a sworn testimony in which she argued that such an action would be in violation of Canon Law also. In his February 2022 modification to Canon 688 §2, Pope Francis stipulated that only a “major superior” can decide on the dismissal of a professed member of a community – and such a person would not be Olson.

The nuns’ suit writes clearly that Olson and the diocese’s tactics “must be stopped.”