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Arlington nuns turn away Vatican-appointed superior

A Carmelite nun entrusted by the Vatican with the governance of a controversial monastery has been rejected twice this week by the monastery’s inhabitants, according to officials in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, Arlington, Texas. Courtesy photo.

Mother Marie of the Incarnation, president of the Carmelite Association of Christ the King, was appointed by the Vatican in April to exercise direct governance and oversight of the Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. The monastery has been involved in a tense dispute with Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson for more than a year.

But according to both Mother Marie of the Incarnation and the Diocese of Fort Worth, the nine nuns living in the Arlington Carmel have refused this week to allow the Vatican-appointed superior to enter their monastery, or to communicate several Vatican decisions connected to their complicated dispute.

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In a statement issued May 22,  Mother Marie of the Incarnation said she had been prohibited from entering the monastery:

“Today, in obedience to the Decree of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, I visited the Arlington Carmel and attempted to present to each Sister the letters which the Dicastery had directed me to give to each individually. Unfortunately, I was rejected and not granted admittance,” the nun wrote.

On Thursday, May 23, a representative from the Fort Worth diocese told The Pillar that Mother Marie of the Incarnation was again turned away by the nuns living in the monastery — refused admittance to the monastery over which the Vatican says she is superior.

Mother Marie of the Incarnation has said she needs to enter the monastery in order to fulfill her Vatican appointment, including the delivery of letters from the Vatican to each nun in the monastery. 

According to a Fort Worth diocesan official, a priest of the diocese was also turned away when he arrived with Mother Marie of the Incarnation on Thursday. 

A diocesan spokesman said the priest had planned to offer Mass according to the liturgical missal of 1962 — the Traditional Latin Mass preferred by the nuns of the monastery — but he was not admitted because he was accompanying Mother Marie of the Incarnation.

Mother Marie of the Incarnation declined The Pillar’s request for an interview, citing her commitment to cloistered life as a Carmelite nun.

But the nun was reportedly visiting the monastery this week to communicate a May 21 Vatican decision to uphold decisions made by Bishop Olson which placed the monastery’s then-superior, Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, on a leave of absence, amid an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct on her part.

The Vatican did not uphold Olson’s decision to expel Mother Teresa Agnes from her religious order, concluding that while the nun did admit to sexual misconduct involving a North Carolina priest, the misconduct was not “perpetrated by the exertion of force or violence,” since the nun did not exercise any canonical authority over the priest.

The move to refuse Mother Marie of the Incarnation’s entrance to the monastery is consistent with an April 20 statement from the Arlington Carmel’s nuns, who called the Vatican’s appointment of an outside superior “a hostile takeover that we cannot in conscience accept.”

“To accept this would risk the integrity of our monastery as a community, threatening the vocations of individual nuns, our liturgical and spiritual life and the material assets of the monastery,” the statement said.

“Accordingly, neither the President of the Association of Christ the King, nor any delegate of hers, is welcome to enter our monastery at this time,” the nuns wrote in April.


A dispute between the Arlington nuns and Bishop Olson began last spring, when Olson initiated a canonical investigation into Mother Teresa Agnes, who allegedly admitted to violating her vow of chastity with an initially unnamed priest.

Lawyers for the convent and for Gerlach, both civil and canonical, have said that her supposed admission of an affair was made following a serious medical procedure, under the influence of painkillers, and when she was in and out of lucidity.

Olson, however, said the prioress had repeated her admission to him during an in-person conversation, in the presence of several other individuals, and later released audio recordings seeming to confirm this. He said Gerlach was lucid and spoke clearly at the time, and was not recovering from surgery at the time.

The dispute has been bitter and at times bizarre, including a million-dollar lawsuit filed by the nuns against Olson, a move by the bishop to restrict the sisters’ access to the sacraments - which was rescinded days later - and images released by the Diocese of Fort Worth purporting to show tables inside the convent strewn with large amounts of drug paraphernalia. 

Last June, the Vatican appointed Olson “pontifical commissary” for the sisters and retroactively sanated any and all canonical procedural issues raised by Olson’s previous actions involving the monastery.

Olson subsequently issued his decree dismissing Gerlach, which has now been overturned.

But last August, the nuns released a statement rejecting Olson’s authority. They said that they did not owe him obedience or cooperation after enduring months of “unprecedented interference, intimidation, aggression, private and public humiliation and spiritual manipulation.”

When Olson suggested that the statement may have triggered a latae sententiae excommunication for the nuns, the sisters then released a new statement which claimed to recognize Olson’s authority as diocesan bishop, while also rejecting his Vatican-conferred authority to intervene over the Carmelite community. 

“The Arlington Carmelite nuns are not, and have no intention of, separating from the Catholic Church despite the incongruous statement made by the bishop. They remain dedicated to the Catholic Church and the Holy See and pray that the Vatican will put an end to this malicious persecution by the bishop. The Arlington Carmelite Nuns recognize the bishop as the local ordinary and respect his role therein,” said an August 2023 statement from the nuns’ lawyer.

“The Arlington Carmelite Nuns do not and will not recognize this bishop’s unwarranted and unauthorized abuse and wielding of the complete power he suddenly is trying to exercise over the Monastery.”

While the Vatican’s letter had instructed the sisters to withdraw and rescind their declaration partially rejecting Olson’s authority, the nuns in their statement reiterated that they “have had to withdraw our cooperation in respect of the unjust exercise of any authority over us by the current Bishop of Fort Worth” and said that the bishop and his delegates are unwelcome at the monastery.

Earlier this week, the Arlington nuns dropped a lawsuit against Olson, in which they had asked a civil judge to place a restraining order on Olson, the Diocese of Fort Worth, and the Association of Christ the King, which is led by Mother Marie of the Incarnation.

While the nuns insisted while they dropped the lawsuit that they are independently governed, the Fort Worth diocese has called them to “spiritual and moral reconciliation with the Church.”

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