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Arlington nuns who battled bishop over chastity vow are placed under new authority

A decree by the Vatican appears to end a bitter and public yearlong dispute.

A group of cloistered nuns who fought a monthslong public battle with a Fort Worth bishop will report to a new authority.

An association of Carmelite nuns will direct daily operations of the secluded Arlington monastery, where members sued Bishop Michael Olson after he accused the reverend mother of violating her vow of chastity, according to a decree from the Vatican.

“In light of this decision, I consider my task and responsibility as Pontifical Commissary of the Arlington Carmel to have ended,” Olson said in a statement posted to the Fort Worth diocese’s website.


An attorney for the nuns did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The decision appears to end, for now, a bitter conflict between the two sides that played out in dueling public statements and in civil court. It unfolded in April 2023 when Olson launched an investigation into whether the Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach violated her vow of chastity with a priest.

In turn, the reverend mother and monastery filed a civil lawsuit against the bishop and diocese, accusing Olson of invading the sisters’ privacy and overstepping his authority. The nuns say Olson and other diocese leaders stormed into the monastery, interrogated the nuns for hours, seized their computers and a phone and blocked priests from conducting Mass for them.


A nearly six-hour court proceeding included explosive testimony from diocese officials, references to “sexting” and drug use, and audio of a 40-minute conversation between Olson and the former head nun.

As church bells rang in the background, Gerlach admitted to breaking her vow of chastity on two occasions, but at another point in the conversation, she said she only spoke to the priest by phone.


“I was not in my right mind,” she said at one point. “Even a nun can fall.”

Diocese officials also released photographs that appeared to show cannabis and marijuana products inside the monastery, which Olson said he obtained from a maintenance worker at the monastery. Matthew Bobo, the monastery’s attorney, denied the allegations of drug use, calling them “ridiculous” and “without merit.”

Gerlach had been hospitalized in November 2022 for seizures and was taking pain medication as a result, Bobo said at the time. Gerlach, who is in poor health, uses a wheelchair and feeding tube.

Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, who lives and works at an Arlington monastery, sued...
Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, who lives and works at an Arlington monastery, sued the Fort Worth Catholic diocese after the bishop accused her of violating her vow of chastity with a priest.(Matthew Bobo / Courtesy)

In June, the Vatican weighed in and granted authority over the nuns to Olson, who attempted to dismiss Gerlach a day later. The nuns, however, refused to recognize Olson’s authority, and in August 2023 Olson warned they could face excommunication if they continued to do so.

The nuns are members of an order called the Discalced Carmelite Nuns. They live quietly on 72 wooded acres in Arlington, where they spend their days praying, cooking, cleaning and caring for the grounds. Save for medical care, they rarely, if ever, leave the premises.

Oversight will now belong to the Association of Christ the King in the United States of America, the association of Carmelite monasteries to which the Arlington monastery belongs, according to the Vatican’s decree.

In a letter to the Arlington monastery, the Vatican ordered the nuns to withdraw their statement refusing to recognize the bishop’s authority. Olson said in a statement that he will work closely with the association’s leader, and he will oversee election of new leadership. Gerlach’s leadership expired this past January.


The Vatican’s decision will ensure the “nuns within the monastery can be heard, rightly cared for, and nurtured in their religious life with proper ecclesiastical governance,” Olson wrote. “It is my prayer that the Arlington Carmel will now have the internal leadership needed to save the monastery and enable it to flourish once again, in unity with the Catholic Church.”