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Bp. Michael OlsonScreenshot/Diocese of Fort Worth

FORT WORTH, Texas (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican has weighed in on the current dispute between Fort Worth’s Bishop Michael Olson and a Carmelite convent within the diocese over an alleged abuse of power, declaring the accused bishop as “Pontifical Commissary,” but the decision has raised more questions than it has answered.

On May 31, the Diocese of Fort Worth published a decree from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, dated the same day. Signed by the dicastery’s secretary Archbishop Jose Carballo, rather than its prefect, the decree appointed Olson as the  “Pontifical Commissary” of the Monastery of Saint Joseph of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns. The decree also stated that the Olson has, regarding the monastery, “full governing powers and with the faculty to appoint, if necessary, the nuns to assume the role of overseer of the community members.”

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

The decree came as the first sign of a Vatican intervention into the events which have unfolded in recent weeks regarding the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity.

Furthermore, Carballo’s notice gave retroactive permission for Olson’s administrative and legal actions regarding the monastery – actions which the nuns have in a lawsuit described as “illegal, unholy, unwarranted” as well as being both civilly and canonically illegal. 

The diocese welcomed the Vatican’s statement by issuing a brief statement of its own. “Bishop Olson is the Pope’s representative in this matter,” the diocese wrote. “In doing so, the Dicastery recognized and acknowledged that Bishop Olson has been, and continues to be, entrusted with full governing responsibility for the Monastery.”

The diocese proceeded to once again publicly reveal details of a reported allegation received against Mother Teresa, stating that the Vatican’s decree came “in response to the challenge to Bishop Olson’s authority to conduct an investigation into the admitted-to violations of the sixth commandment of the Decalogue and the vow of chastity by the Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes (Gerlach) of Jesus Crucified, O.C.D., Prioress of the Monastery in Arlington, Texas.”

As LifeSite has reported (here and here), Olson began the proceedings by conducting an un-announced visitation of the monastery on April 24, during which he and his party “demanded” to question Mother Teresa Agnes (Gerlach) and her full-time carer, Sr. Francis Therese. 

Stipulating where Mother Teresa was to “eat, sit, talk to, whether she can use technology and whether and when she could leave the monastery,” Olson added a warning of her dismissal from the monastery if she attempted to make a phone call without prior approval from an “administrator.” Technological items, such as her phone and iPad, were removed by the diocese.

When the nuns subsequently informed Olson that any further questioning of the wider community would only take place if the nuns were properly informed what the matter was about, 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.”

When the nuns issued a civil lawsuit against the bishop, Olson responded by publicly announcing on May 16 that Mother Agnes had been accused of committing “sins against the Sixth Commandment” with a priest.

READ: Texas bishop restricts sacraments at Carmelite convent after nuns sued him for ‘abuse’ of power

The nuns’ lawsuit, Olson informed them in the past few days, had “incited hatred and animosity against me because of my initiation of the investigation.” As a result, the bishop has moved to prohibit any provision of Mass or Confession at the monastery, saying the two sacraments “cannot be conveniently provided” at this time. 

Vatican’s document riddled with problems

But responding to the Vatican’s May 31 decree, the nuns’ civil lawyer Matthew Bobo raised a number of issues regarding the brief document. Bobo noted that the decree “is restricted to merely the governing function of the Catholic Church and has no authority whatsoever over the law in the State of Texas, nor regarding the civil lawsuit filed by the sisters of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity.”

He highlighted a number of issues with the document, all of which he termed as “grave errors” which “raise the issue of the validity of this decree.”

Screenshot of the Vatican decree

Bobo first stated that the case number and year given in the Vatican’s decree “are neither correct nor associated with this case.” Additionally, the monastery which the Vatican referred to is not the Carmelite monastery of the Most Holy Trinity – with the Vatican actually writing about the “The Monastery of ‘Saint Joseph’ of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns at Arlington.”

Such an issue from the notoriously anti-traditional Carballo is not a new development. As highlighted by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, Carballo acted similarly when moving to crush the traditional Benedictine convent of Pienza in recent months. Two of his decrees, issued in January 2023, bore the date of 2014 and 2017 respectively. 

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.

READ: Vatican dicastery denies involvement with rumored document crushing traditional seminaries

Additionally, Bobo stated that the nuns’ canon lawyer “has not received this decree which is required by canon law.” Such an element is particularly noteworthy since the canon lawyer involved is one not chosen by the nuns but by Olson. 

As noted recently 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.”

With these issues raised against the Vatican’s document, Bobo also rejected the Vatican’s move to retroactively approve all of Olson’s actions in the past few weeks, saying that “the unjust, illegal and immoral actions taken by Bishop Michael Olson in this matter have been explicitly outlined in the past few weeks, and the decree issued by the Catholic Church from Vatican City changes none of the facts of the case.” 

The Diocese of Fort Worth had once again referenced the allegations regarding mother Teresa in its May 31 statement, something which Bobo described as an “unconscionable action” by the bishop, arguing that “issuing another public statement reiterating the alleged sins of a Mother Superior and defaming her in a public forum are a violation of the most basic human rights according to natural, Divine, civil and moral law.”

He revealed his resolve to continue representing the community in their civil case.