Mother superior accused of ‘sexting’ priest is backed by her nuns
A group of nuns in Texas have ostracised a bishop amid a bitter feud over claims their wheelchair-bound mother superior broke her chastity vow by “sexting” a priest.
The Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Arlington said they “no longer recognise the authority” of Bishop Michael Olson of the Fort Worth Diocese and demanded he “repent” and apologise for his “abusive behaviour”.
“No one who abuses us as the current Bishop of Fort Worth, has any right to our cooperation or obedience”, they said in a statement.
Rev Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach, 43, was dismissed in June following a six-week probe into claims she had sexual relations with a priest from Montana. The monastery has stood by her.
Ms Gerlach, who is fed via a feeding tube owing to health complications, was reported to the bishop after allegedly confessing the affair to The Very Rev Jonathan Wallis.
She allegedly told the priest she was concerned because her period was late.
Mr Olson took Ms Gerlach’s phone, computer and iPad as part of the investigation and claimed the alleged relationship had involved “sexting”.
He found Ms Gerlach “guilty of having violated the sixth commandment of the Decalogue and her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the Diocese of Fort Worth” in June.
‘Even a nun can fall’
A lawyer acting for Ms Gerlach claimed Mr Olson had orchestrated the attack because he had his sights on the 72-acre estate owned by the monastery.
The nuns brought a $ 1million (£785,000) civil lawsuit against Mr Olson in June, claiming they had been defamed and intimidated.
The court heard a 40-minute recording of a discussion between Ms Gerlach and Mr Olson, during which Ms Gerlach was reportedly heard admitting to a “horrible mistake”, saying: “Even a nun can fall”. She also said it happened “over the phone” and not in person.
Mr Olson also told the court a nun had informed him there had been “sexting” between Ms Gerlach and the priest.
Sister Francis Therese told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the priest had texted “asking for prayers” and “somehow in the course of the text exchange something inappropriate was said. It was never in person”.
“When she realised it, she became very distressed. She is religious, she is a consecrated woman, and she takes her vocation very seriously. She didn’t resolve it in her own mind without counsel. Innocently, she went to Father Wallis.”
The lawsuit was later thrown out by the judge who claimed it was a matter for the church.
In the latest development, the nuns on Friday put out a statement saying they “no longer recognise the authority of, and can have no further relations with” Mr Olson or his officials.
They claimed to have “been abused by the personal and public behaviours 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”.
Claiming Mr Olson and his associates of waging a war of “interference, intimidation, aggression, private and public humiliation and spiritual manipulation”, they said they “forbid” them from entering the “monastery property or to have any contact or relations with the monastery or any of its nuns or novices.”
They accused Mr Olson of “gravely unjust and intolerably destructive” abuse and said “we cannot permit this diocesan bishop to continue his abusive behaviour towards us any longer.”
They added: “For our own spiritual and psychological safety, and in justice, we must remain independent of this bishop until such time as he repents of the abuse to which he has subjected us.”
The nuns also insisted they had “complete confidence in the personal and moral integrity of its Mother Prioress and in her leadership.”
Apologising to family and friends upset by the events of recent months, they said “if we are to be faithful to our vocation, if we are to live, we have no other choice”.
In a supporting statement, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States, called out a “corrupt hierarchy” and likened the Arlington nuns to those who faced the guillotine after the French Revolution.
Responding, Mr Olson released a statement saying Ms Gerlach may be excommunicated “by her own schismatic actions,” adding that the monastery would remain closed to public access until it “publicly disavows itself of these scandalous and schismatic actions of Mother Teresa Agnes”.
“This 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,” he wrote.
The Diocese of Fort Worth issued a statement denouncing the “dangerously rebellious decision” and urged “the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth and all people of good will to pray for the Carmelites that they will stop their open disobedience.”
Ms Gerlach’s lawyer, Matthew Bobo, has previously said the allegations against his client were false and “insulting”.
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