US Carmelites may be excommunicated after public rejection of bishop’s authority

US Carmelites may be excommunicated after public rejection of bishop’s authority Sister Teresa Agnes Gerlach, of Jesus Crucified, former prioress of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas, and Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth are pictured in an undated combination photo. Photo: OSV News/courtesy Matthew Bobo/Bob Roller

Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, said August 19 that a community of Carmelites in his diocese, and their prioress in particular, may have incurred excommunication after posting a letter online on August 18 saying their community no longer recognises his authority, claiming that he has interfered with and humiliated them since initiating an investigation into their prioress in late April.

In his statement to the Faithful, Bishop Olson noted that many people, including himself, have relied on the prayers of the Carmelites of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, and that the nuns’ rejection of his authority as bishop and pontifical commissary “has hurt me as a friend and as the bishop because of the deep wound this has cut in our unity as the Diocese of Fort Worth”.

“Thus, it is with deep sorrow that I must inform the Faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth, that Mother Teresa Agnes, thereby, may have incurred upon herself latae sententiae, ( i.e., by her own schismatic actions), excommunication. The other nuns, depending on their complicity in Mother Teresa Agnes’ publicly, scandalous and schismatic actions could possibly have incurred the same latae sententiae excommunication,” Bishop Olson said in his statement.

In their 1,120-word statement from the “Reverend Mother Prioress and Chapter,” posted August 18 to their website’s homepage, the nuns said, “In recent months, our Monastery in general and our Mother Prioress in particular have been subjected to 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”.

The nuns said that due to the bishop’s alleged treatment of them, they “no longer recognise 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”.

In late April, Bishop Olson initiated an investigation under Church law of the community’s prioress, Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach of Jesus Crucified, into allegations of her breaking chastity vows via “video chat” with a priest.

In the August 18 statement, the Carmelites said that they “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”.

Acknowledging that they can “expect much rhetoric to the contrary, maybe even sanctions,” the sisters emphasised they “are breaking Communion with no one”.