NEW YORK – In a ruling that in-part closes a year-long saga that at times had gotten ugly in the public sphere, the Vatican has overturned a decree from Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, in which he dismissed Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach from the Carmelite Order.

Olson issued a decree of dismissal against Gerlach on June 1, 2023, after an investigation the diocese launched months earlier found the prioress of the Carmelite Monastery in Arlington, Texas, guilty of sexual misconduct with a Catholic priest of another diocese, now identified as Father Philip Johnson from the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. An investigation into Johnson remains ongoing.

There are a few reasons the Vatican overturned Olson’s decree. Two of them are related to the particulars of Gerlach’s misconduct, and the other was because of a procedural misstep.

The Vatican reasoned that although Gerlach admitted to the misconduct, the admission did not establish that the misconduct was “perpetrated by the exertion of force of violence.” The Vatican also reasoned that her admission of the misconduct did not establish abuse of her ecclesiastical authority as prioress because she “possessed no real or even imagined authority” over Johnson.

Procedurally, the Vatican reasoned that in the execution of the process of dismissal Gerlach was not afforded the full 15 days allotted to respond fully to the canonical warnings.

“This Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, upon completion of an examination of the facts, circumstances, and proceedings in this matter, finds in favor of the Recurrent, Mother Teresa Agnes, given invalidating errors both in procedendo et in decernendo in the execution of the case for dismissal lodged against her,” the decree states.

The decree was dated April 30, but made public on May 22. The decree was signed by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and Sister Simona Brambilla, secretary for the dicastery.

Dating back to when Olson launched the investigation into Gerlach’s misconduct, much of the saga has played out in public. The monastery has said that it has “suffered continued attack and abuse” from Olson, citing his search of their convent that resulted in seizing their phones and computers, and restricting their access to Mass and other sacraments, among other actions.

They also note that Gerlach’s first admission about the misconduct came while she was under the influence of medication following a serious medical procedure. Olson, meanwhile, has said that she repeated her admission to him in a separate in-person conversation.

The Arlington Carmelite’s also sued Olson for a million dollars – a case a judge dismissed last June determining that the case was a Church matter, not a civil one. They also issued a letter in August stating that they “no longer recognize the authority of” Olson. Olson called the statement “scandalous and schismatic” and said as a result Gerlach and other nuns at the monastery could be excommunicated.

Now, with the May 22 ruling, Gerlach retains her place in the monastery. Gerlach isn’t, however, the prioress due to an earlier decision from the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Per an April 18 decree from the dicastery, the governance and oversight of the monastery was entrusted to the Association of Christ the King in the United States, the association of Carmelite monasteries to which the Arlington Carmelites belong.

This was a decision Olson supported, and was something he focused on in a May 22 statement announcing that the Vatican had overturned his decree dismissing Gerlach from the Carmelite Order. He didn’t comment on the Vatican’s decision overturning Gerlach’s dismissal beyond outlining what is stated in the decree, and declined a Crux request for further comment.

“This appointment by the Dicastery offers Mother Teresa Agnes the opportunity to seek restoration and recovery to live as a faithful member of the Carmelite Order in accordance with her religious vows but without the burdens of leadership that come with the office of prioress,” Olson said.

“It will also ensure that all the nuns within the monastery can be heard, rightly cared for and nurtured in their religious life in full communion with the Catholic Church,” Olson continued. “As their Bishop, I stand ready to pastorally assist the nuns of Arlington Carmel.”

Mother Marie of the Incarnation, President of the Association of Christ the King, issued a statement on May 22 saying that day she visited Arlington Carmel and attempted to present each sister the letters she was directed to give them by the dicastery, but “was rejected and not granted admittance,” setting the stage for the potential for more Vatican involvement in the matter.

With that May 22 statement, Marie also published a statement she had prepared for April 20 following Arlington Carmel being entrusted to the Association of Christ the King, in which she pledges to do what she can to preserve the monastery. The statement wasn’t issued April 20, she said, because that same day the Arlington Carmel’s filed a second lawsuit against Olson, the Diocese of Fort Worth, and the Association of Christ the King. The lawsuit has since been dropped.

“Undoubtedly, the Arlington Carmel is a blessing and a source of grace for the Diocese of Fort Worth,” Marie said. “I pledge to do all I can to preserve and increase this blessing for you, the faithful of Fort Worth.”

The nuns of Arlington Carmel did not respond to a Crux request for comment on the Vatican decree. In their last statement published on April 20, they called entrusting the governance of the monastery to the Association of Christ the King (USA) “in effect 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 reads. “This outside authority could easily disperse us, impose its agenda in respect to our daily observance and dispose of our assets – even of the monastery itself – as it wishes, contrary to our vows and to the intentions of those who founded our community and our benefactors.”

The statement continues that because of this belief, the president of the Association of Christ the King (USA), nor any delegate of hers, “is welcome to enter” the monastery.

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