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Arlington police investigating nun’s allegations against Fort Worth Catholic bishop

Jan 10, 2024

Arlington police are investigating the dispute between the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese and a cloistered nun who says she was wrongly accused of "sexual misconduct" with a priest.

A police spokesman said Wednesday that the Reverend Mother Teresa Gerlach's lawyer had contacted the department last week, raising "allegations about recent actions" at the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity.

The nun's lawyer, Matthew Bobo of Fort Worth, said Arlington officers interviewed her on Wednesday morning.

Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson recently dismissed Gerlach from the monastery of Carmelite nuns over accusations she violated her chastity vow with an unnamed priest. Gerlach, who is 43 and uses a wheelchair and feeding tube, denies the allegations and is appealing her dismissal.

The police investigation is in its "early stages," the spokesman said. "The department has launched an investigation to determine whether any criminal offenses have occurred, which is standard anytime a criminal complaint is made."

A representative of the diocese told the Star-Telegram "neither the Bishop nor anyone at the Diocese have been involved in any criminal activity regarding the Monastery."

"The mere fact that Attorney Bobo initiated and made a report to the Arlington Police Department was not unexpected given the aggressive manner he has litigated this ecclesiastical dispute in the press," the diocese spokesman said.

Police may be looking into the complaints by Gerlach and another nun that Olson took financial, medical and donor data from their electronic devices when the diocese first made the misconduct accusation in April.

Gerlach's legal fight in secular court and canonical battle with Olson and the diocese is highly unusual for an order that typically remains out of the public spotlight. The dispute stems from an April investigation into a report that the Gerlach broke her chastity vows with an priest from outside of the diocese.

Last week, the Vatican weighed in with a decree giving Olson governing authority over the monastery.

The nuns have lived 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 The Sisters of Carmel are withdrawn from the world and spend much of their day in silent prayer.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. Gerlach has been a member of the monastery for 25 years.

According to court documents, Olson and other diocesan officials went to the monastery on April 24 with a "forensic" technology expert.

Olson "demanded" that the reverend mother turn over her laptop, iPad and cell phone, and told Gerlach and Sister Francis Therese that they could not handle the administrative duties of the monastery.

The lawsuit alleges that Olson violated the reverend mother's civil and canonical rights by telling her where she could sit and eat, and she was not allowed in her private bedroom despite needing constant medical care. She uses her iPad to communicate.

On April 25, the reverend mother underwent surgery, and when she returned to the monastery, she and other sisters were subjected to more questions and interrogation. Olson raised his voice, according to the lawsuit.

"The Bishop threw a temper tantrum, and in an agitated and raised voice yelled that the Monastery was shut down, no Mass would be celebrated, he then slammed the door and left the Monastery, traumatizing the Sisters," Gerlach said in her affidavit.

Attorneys for the diocese said in a motion to dismiss the suit that Gerlach admitted to violating her chastity vows and that secular courts did not have jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters and investigations.

"The focal point of this entire dispute is an ecclesiastical investigation into sexual misconduct in violation of the Sixth Commandment — considered ‘grave misconduct’ within the Catholic Church," wrote the attorneys with Kelly Hart & Hallman in Fort Worth.

Bobo argued that Gerlach confessed under duress because she was recovering from surgery and was on pain medication, including fentanyl.

Bobo also wrote an open letter to Bishop Olson asking him to answer questions about who reported the alleged chastity vow violation and who was the priest.

"Your Excellency: You have repeatedly and publicly accused the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of violating her vow of chastity with a priest. What is the specific allegation you have found the Reverend Mother guilty of? Because you have defamed Mother Superior publicly now on multiple occasions, please do provide the specifics," Bobo wrote.

The diocese on Monday told the Star-Telegram that it has already provided Gerlach with the specific findings of the bishop's investigation.