Hearing in nun-bishop lawsuit delayed till Tuesday

Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach

A Tarrant County judge on Friday convened and then quickly recessed a hearing in a lawsuit filed by the nuns of Discaled Carmelite Monastery in Arlington against Bishop Michael Olson of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.

Judge Don Cosby of the 67th Civil District Court rescheduled the hearing for Tuesday (June 27).

The nuns filed the $1 million suit against the bishop, charging that Olson overstepped his authority and invaded their privacy when he confiscated a cellphone and other electronic devices belonging to Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach as a part of an investigation of what the bishop said was inappropriate behavior on her part.

Olson alleged and then announced that he had determined that Gerlach broke her vow of chastity with a priest from another diocese. Neither the priest nor his diocese has been publicly identified.

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Gerlach, who suffers from a medical condition that has kept her wheelchair-bound and dependent on a central catheter and feeding tube, has vehemently denied the allegation that she broke her vow of chastity. She also claims she was defamed by the bishop.

Michael Anderson, attorney for Olson, asked for the delay so that Canon lawyers can review evidence his team plans to introduce in the civil case.

“We believe that the evidence 100 percent vindicates Bishop Olson,” Anderson said.

The nuns’ lawyer declined to comment but her supporters, including prominent Fort Worth philanthropist Sheila Johnson, maintain that the nuns were wronged.

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“The bishop spewed accusations against the Reverend Mother that are lies,” said Johnson, the granddaughter of Fort Worth’s legendary media mogul Amon Carter and the daughter of philanthropist and civic leader Ruth Carter Stevenson, who bought the 72-acres encompassing the monastery and donated it to the nuns.

Johnson and other allies have said they believe the property, worth millions, is at the center of the dispute between the bishop and the nuns.

The judge will decide whether the dispute should be litigated in civil court or handled only by a canonical court.