Nuns won’t appeal lawsuit dismissal; await church ruling in dispute with bishop

Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach

Nuns from the Carmelite Monastery in Arlington have decided against appealing a civil court ruling in a $1 million lawsuit they brought against Bishop Michael F. Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth, it was announced on Monday.

Matthew Bobo, civil attorney for the nuns, had indicated that his clients would appeal the decision of Tarrant County District Court Judge Don Cosby, who ruled last month that the dispute was a church matter and he did not have jurisdiction to become involved.

Bobo had argued in a June 27 hearing in Cosby’s courtroom that the judge did have jurisdiction because the nuns’ allegations  involved non-church actions by the bishop, including the confiscation of a cellphone and other electronic devices. The nuns also claimed the bishop defamed them and invaded their privacy when he investigated a report that Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach had broken her vow of chastity with an out-of-state priest.

The decision to not pursue the appeal in the suit filed by Gerlach and Sister Francis Therese of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington was based on notification from the Vatican that it would not review the “the multiple appeals and recourses” filed with the dicastery regarding Olson’s actions until civil litigation was resolved, according to a statement from Bobo.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

“We believe the decision by the nuns not to appeal the dismissal of their lawsuit is appropriate and supports our long-held belief that this matter never should have been filed in a civil court,” the Diocese of Fort Worth said in a statement on Monday. “This matter will continue to proceed through an established canonical process within the Catholic Church.”

The bitter dispute between the nuns and the bishop grew more contentious after the nuns lodged a complaint with the Arlington Police Department against Olson over the confiscation of their property and alleged wrongful action. Olson responded by leveling charges with the police of illegal drug use by the nuns at the monastery and abuse of prescription drugs by Gerlach.

The police department has ceased its investigations.

Olson has since announced that he determined that Gerlach broke her vow of chastity. He said she was dismissed from the monastery, although the latest statement by the diocese said that Mother Teresa Agnes remains on administrative leave as prioress.

- Advertisement -

Gerlach suffers from a medical condition that keeps her confined to a wheelchair and reliant on a feeding tube and catheter line.

In an audio tape that was presented as evidence by Olson’s attorneys and played in Cosby’s packed courtroom. Gerlach could be heard saying she only connected by telephone with the priest with whom she is accused of breaking her vow.

The priest, originally identified in court as Bernard Marie of a religious order in Montana, is actually Father Phillip G. Johnson of the Diocese of Raleigh in North Carolina. He reportedly was suspended from his duties while the matter is pending.

“The nuns place their hopes and prayers on a just and fair review of the case by the Vatican to ensure that acts taken by Bishop Olson will be reversed and they will be completely exonerated, thereby allowing them to return to their prayerful contemplative life without further unlawful interference by Bishop Olson,” Bobo said his statement.

- Advertisement -

“The nuns look forward to the reinstatement of daily Mass for the laity and themselves as has been repeatedly promised by Bishop Olson after the civil litigation ended,” he added.

The Diocese stated: “the status quo for Mass at the monastery will remain in place during the canonical appeal, after which it will be appropriately reviewed. Daily Mass will continue to be provided for the nuns at the monastery, as it has been since June 1, 2023.”