Nun sues Fort Worth Catholic diocese after bishop accuses her of violating chastity vow

Fort Worth Star-Telegram [Fort Worth, TX]

May 19, 2023

By Elizabeth Campbell

A reverend mother who oversees cloistered nuns at an Arlington monastery is in a legal battle with Bishop Michael Olson and the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese after he launched an investigation into allegations she violated her chastity vows with a priest.

Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach has sued Olson and the diocese, seeking more than $1 million in damages. She accuses the bishop of abuse of power and overstepping his authority.

Gerlach, along with Sister Francis Therese, filed the lawsuit May 3 in Tarrant County district court. The dispute is playing out in court and with canonical lawyers who handle ecclesiastical matters.

Matthew Bobo, an attorney representing the nuns, said the accusations are “absolutely false and have no basis.”

“Per canon law, he doesn’t have the authority to start an investigation or take any action. This is an independent religious organization which answers directly to the Pope,” Bobo said.

The nuns have lived quietly on 72 wooded acres near South Bowen Road and West Sublett Road since 1958.

The Sisters of Carmel are withdrawn from the world and spend much of their day in silent prayer. The order has existed since 1562.

The diocese posted a statement on its website that said: “Bishop Michael Olson received a report in April 2023 that the Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes of Jesus Crucified Gerlach, O.C.D., committed sins against the Sixth Commandment and violated her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the Diocese of Fort Worth. The priest’s superiors have been notified. An ecclesiastical investigation into the report of the grave misconduct was initiated at the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas, on April 24, 2023. During this time, Mass is being offered for the sisters on Sundays. The Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes has responded by initiating civil litigation against Bishop Olson and the Diocese of Fort Worth. Please pray for the sisters at the Monastery.”

A spokesperson for the diocese said there would be no further comment and that the bishop was not available for an interview.