Carmelite nuns of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas, filed new theft and defamation charges Friday against Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth.
The nuns’ new charges were filed in a district court for Tarrant County, Texas, the day after Olson dismissed the monastery’s prioress, Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, from religious life on the grounds that she had a sexual affair with an unnamed priest.
In a Thursday decree, Olson announced he had found Gerlach, prioress of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, “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.”
The new charges levied by the monastery are in addition to a lawsuit filed on May 3 that seeks $1 million in civil damages and asks the court to block the bishop’s and the diocese’s access to any records obtained by confiscating the reverend mother’s property.
“Bishop Olson forced the Reverend Mother to turn over her computer, iPad, and cellular phone to him personally,” the charge states.
Though the physical property has since been returned, the nuns allege that the diocese made digital copies of the information containing “private correspondence, private documents, extensive medical records,” and financial information, “including but not limited to donor lists.”
“This is the private property of the Plaintiffs, none of which is relevant or related to the canonical investigation, which according to the Defendants has now been concluded,” the suit says.
Additionally, the nuns claim that Olson and the diocese defamed Gerlach by voluntarily publishing “patently false and defamatory” statements about the prioress on the diocesan website.
In turn, the diocese is arguing that the dispute is an ecclesiastical matter and should not be heard in a civil court.
The civil hearing on the case is set for June 23.
Although Olson has concluded his ecclesiastical investigation and the diocese alleges that Gerlach admitted to the misconduct, the monastery’s attorney Matthew Bobo emphatically denies that claim.
According to Bobo, Gerlach, 43, was under the influence of pain medication related to a surgery when she is alleged to have admitted to the affair and “has not admitted to any grave misconduct that would warrant his extreme and emotionally damaging measures.”
Per Olson’s decree, Gerlach has 30 days to appeal her dismissal to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of the Apostolic Life.
Read the background of the story here