Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth released a video message Sunday evening addressing his interventions at the Carmelite monastery in Arlington, Texas.
Saying he would not be drawn into public discussion of the matter, the bishop attempted to refute accounts that the convent’s superior had been heavily medicated when allegedly admitting to sexual sins with a priest, while insisting he had no designs or claims on the convent’s property.
Addressing the Catholics of his diocese, Olson referred to the ongoing conflict between him and the nuns as “a matter that is currently causing all of us much pain, confusion and heartache.”
“It has hurt me deeply because I love the sisters in the Arlington Carmel very much. I’ve known the sisters for over thirty years, and I have prayed with them and I have relied on their prayers.”
Olson described the ongoing conflict between himself and the nuns, during which the convent has filed a civil suit against the bishop after he initiated a canonical investigation in April after the mother superior of the convent allegedly admitted to some sin against the sixth commandment with a priest from outside the diocese.
“This is a Church matter, this is a pastoral matter, this is a spiritual matter,” Olson said in the June 11 video, while insisting that efforts by supporters of the nuns to provoke him into publicly defending his interventions in the religious community would not work.
“Others have tried to draw me into addressing this matter in the inappropriate venues of civil court, and also in both social and the mainstream media, and I will not do so.” Olson also said that these “others” had made “baseless and false claims” about his motives and actions into “the public mind.”
Bishop Olson has been locked in a conflict with the nuns of the Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity for more than a month, after initiating a canonical investigation into their abbess, Mother Teresa Agnes for alleged (and the diocese says admitted) sins against her vow of chastity which she is supposed to have committed with an unnamed priest.
Matthew Bobo, the lawyer for the nuns, has previously raised questions about the Mother Teresa Agnes’ supposed admission to some kind of sexual relationship or encounter with the priest, which she is meant to have made to the diocesan vicar general in December last year.
In his video, the bishop said he wanted to “clarify the confusion” these claims have caused.
Olson stated that he first learned of the supposed admission to a sexual sin by the monastery superior, Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach of Jesus Crucified, in April, and that the admission had been made to the vicar general of the Fort Worth diocese and to one of the sisters of the monastery.
Olson said the prioress had “described the transgression as consensual,” and made her admissions “with clarity and consistency” on four different occasions.
Lawyers for the convent and for Mother Teresa Agnes, both civil and canonical, have said that her supposed admission was made following a serious medical procedure, under the influence of painkillers, and when she was in and out of lucidity.
Olson said the prioress had repeated her admission to him personally on April 24, in the presence of his diocesan chancellor, and a sister of the convent, along with the diocesan safe environment coordinator. The bishop claimed that the nun named the priest during that conversation, and that the priest’s diocese of residence, his immediate superior, and his bishop had all been informed of the situation.
The priest, who remains unnamed, is currently unassigned and not cooperating with the canonical process under the advice of legal counsel, Olson said. It is not clear whether the priest is a member of a religious institute.
The bishop said the nun answered his questions “freely and with clarity” and that the conversation “took place the late afternoon of the day before she had surgery, not after the surgery.”
“She was not under the influence of anesthesia, she was clear and lucid, and had normal use of her physical and mental faculties at that time — claims to the contrary are false and baseless and untrue,” the bishop insisted.
Olson also addressed accusations by the nuns’ civil attorney, who has claimed the bishop’s intervention in the convent is a pretext to seize information about the sisters’ financial benefactors.
“The donor list, the property, and all of the assets of the Carmelite monastery belong to the monastery,” said Olson, “and are there for the care and sustenance of the Carmelite community of nuns and for their religious mission.”
“Neither I nor the Diocese of Fort Worth have ever made, nor do we now make any claims or designs to the contrary.”
The bishop also said communications equipment taken from the convent as part of his investigation had been surrendered “freely” and “calmly” by Mother Teresa Agnes, been copied according to a framework agreed by canonical counsel for both the diocese and the nun, and returned to the monastery several weeks ago.
Mother Teresa Agnes’ canon lawyer during the process, which resulted in her dismissal from the religious order by Olson on June 1, was appointed ex officio by the bishop, after Olson rejected canonists appointed by the nun as unqualified — including one with years of experience in Vatican legal practice.
The bishop also offered more details of the allegations of illegal drug use at the covenant, first made by the diocese last week when it published images from inside the convent appearing to show large amounts of marijuana and associated paraphernalia.
According to Olson, the diocese was alerted to the alleged drug use in the convent by “individuals who are closely associated” with the Carmel after the order filed suit against the bishop in May.
The bishop said the diocese had “immediately” forwarded what they learned to local police.
Olson closed his video by condemning media coverage of the affair as “salacious” and accused the press of “morose delectation” in coverage of the events, which include the diocese’s own regular updates and public statements on the issues.
“Please pray for a just, peaceful, and merciful conclusion of this matter,” Olson said.
Olson’s video is the latest in a series of public statements from the Fort Worth diocese attempting to calm speculation about the bishop’s intervention with the convent.
However, while the bishop twice asserted in this Sunday video that the issues concerning Mother Teresa Agnes are “private,” “pastoral,” and “spiritual,” his statement did not address the outstanding canonical questions raised by his intervention in the case.
The diocese has repeatedly stated that Olson is acting within the bounds of canon law, and that there are serious issues at the monastery which required his urgent intervention — including his initial move to coercively restrict the nuns’ access to the sacraments, and order the summary dismissal of Mother Teresa Agnes from the order.
But Olson has previously said that his investigation was undertaken under the aegis of canon 695 of the Code of Canon Law, which specifies that members of a religious order can be dismissed if they commit certain canonical crimes.
Among those crimes are public or coercive sexual acts undertaken by clerics. But Mother Teresa Agnes is not a cleric, nor — according Olson video message — is there apparently any suggestion that a crime of coercion was committed in the course of what he called a “consensual” sin.
Despite the lack of a clear canonical criminal case to answer by Mother Teresa Agnes, Olson issued a decree of dismissal against her last week, expelling her from the Carmelite order.
That decree is understood to be under appeal in Rome, though the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life have have granted the bishop sweeping powers to deal with the Carmel.
That intervention by DICLSAL, which came in the form of a decree appointing Olson as pontifical commissary for the monastery, has itself raised a number of questions.
In addition to misnaming the monastery in its text, the decree marks a deviation from a recent canonical reform by Pope Francis, who last year made changes to canon law removing the diocesan bishop from the process of determining whether a nun in an autonomous monastery can be dismissed.
The decree was also signed by Archbishop Jose Carballo, the dicastery's secretary, rather than by its prefect, Cardinal João Braz de Avi, as is customary.
The Diocese of Forth Worth published the decree on May 31, the day it was signed, making the speed with which it was delivered to the diocese highly unusual — Vatican decrees are usually signed weeks prior to their communication and public release.
The speed with which Rome has intervened was further called into question by Olson’s statement Sunday, in which he insisted that he first learned of the alleged admissions of Mother Teresa Agnes on April 24, meaning that DICLSAL moved to assess the case and empower Olson in a single month, a timeframe practically unheard of for the dicastery.
Olson’s insistence that it was only in April that he was first made aware of the problems in the convent, both concerning Mother Teresa Agens and the wider alleged illegal drug use, also reraises outstanding questions about the decrees assigned protocol number.
The protocol number, part of the Vatican’s filing system, indicates that a case concerning the monastery was first raised in 2020.
While that could be true, it would contradict the public statements of both the bishop and the monastery’s lawyer, Bobo, who has said the Vatican designation is “neither correct nor associated with this case.”