Update June 15:

Sources close to monastery talk to ABC affiliate

Since this article is still getting significant traffic since it was posted June 13, I’ll add one more significant development. Several sources close to the Carmelite Monastery in Arlington, Texas, spoke to WFAA, the local ABC affiliate, under the condition of anonymity about their concerns regarding prioress Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach.


“That was the last thing in the world I would have expected to hear,” said an informant.

All three inside sources said they know nothing about the allegation of breaking the vow. They said they are coming forward for the Mother Superior.

“We’re here because we need her to get help,” an informant told WFAA. “She’s very, very, very fragile…very fragile.”

The inside sources said Mother Agnes Gerlach has been dealing with health issues for years. Her attorneys told WFAA she uses a feeding tube and is hooked up to an IV.

These inside sources said they’re worried she’s abusing prescribed drugs and is using marijuana, which is illegal in Texas.

Regarding the release last week of images of marijuana products and drug paraphernalia, the report said:

“That’s inside the cloister. I think that’s what they call it, the craft room,” said the informants.

WFAA asked the informants how they knew the location the picture was taken. A cloister in the monastery we understand to be a place with very rare access.

“I took the picture,” said one informant.

The report went on to say:

“Yeah, we have knowledge that she has traveled out of state to get illegal drugs and brought them back to the monastery,” said an informant.

They said Mother Superior, with the help of a layperson, has driven to Colorado multiple times where marijuana is legal.


These inside sources said they have no doubt the cannabis was used to help an ailing Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach.

“I don’t want to see anything bad happen to her. But this is really sad to see this,” one informant said — and a sentiment all three shared.

All three said they have not seen the Mother Superior use marijuana. And they don’t know what prescribed painkillers she takes.

But they do say they’ve seen her under the influence.


“I’ve struggled with this issue with mother for some time,” said one informant.

“We’re saying this situation is wrong and she needs medical help and the other sisters need to be protected,” said another informant.

In this case, civil, criminal and canonical trials are all possible.

“And by us speaking, we’re putting a lot on the line, both of us…a lot,” said an informant.

But no one has more on the line than the person at the center of it all: Mother Superior Agnes Gerlach.

The entire story, including commentary by Gerlach’s attorney Matthew Bobo and the video, is available at the WFAA website.

Original Article (posted June 13):

Since my Friday article and the latest episode of The Debrief, there have been significant developments in the ongoing conflict between the Arlington Carmelite monastery and Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth. Here’s a roundup of these developments, listed in no particular order. Speaking for myself, I’m still trying to process it all.

The nuns deny

On Friday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported:

An attorney representing nuns from the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity who are suing Bishop Michael Olson and the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese said he believes photos showing drugs were staged by the diocese.

Matthew Bobo said Thursday that there is no proof that photos showing piles of bottles that appear to be marijuana edibles and other paraphernalia were taken at the monastery where the Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach is appealing her dismissal after she was accused of breaking her chastity vows with a priest.

Bobo argued that the diocese released the photos after the police said they were conducting a criminal investigation.

He also told the Star-Telegram that he would invite the police to bring their drug sniffing dogs to “scour the monastery.”

Without specific details about the origin of the photos, it’s difficult to know where they originated. That said, the cinderblocks on the back wall in one of the photos seems to match that in other photos of the monastery. Studying a high-resolution version of the photo also reveals one address label that is slightly too blurry to read. But it is plausible that the address matches that of the monastery.

Make of that what you will.

The bishop speaks

Yesterday, Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth addressed the situation in his most extensive comments to date, in an 8-minute video posted to YouTube,

Here is an unofficial transcript of his statement:

I felt the need to take this time as your Bishop to speak to you, the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth, about 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 have known the sisters for over 30 years, and I have prayed with them, and I have relied on their prayers.

This is a Church matter. This is a pastoral matter. This is a spiritual matter. Others have attempted to draw me into addressing this matter in the inappropriate venues of civil court and also in both social media and the mainstream media, and I will not do so. These attempts on the part of others have asserted baseless and false claims into the public mind, causing confusion among you, the faithful, a confusion that I would like to clarify for you at this time.

First, I was told in April that the Prioress, Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, had admitted to my vicar General, Father Wallace and to Sister Francis Therese of the monastery, that she had broken her vow of chastity with a priest (not from the diocese of Fort Worth). And Mother Teresa Agnes described the transgression as consensual. She voluntarily made these admissions on four different days with clarity and consistency, but without naming the priest.

To be clear, she made these admissions outside of the Sacrament of Confession.

Secondly, on April 24th, 2023, when I spoke with Mother Teresa Agnes as part of the church’s prescribed and internal investigation in the presence of Sister Francis Therese of Monsignor Hart, my Chancellor and Sandra Schrader, the safe environment director of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Mother Teresa Agnes admitted, now for the fifth time, with clarity and freely that she had broken her vow of chastity with a priest. I asked her the name of the priest in the presence of these witnesses, and she gave it to me freely and with clarity.

This 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.

Third, I wish to make it clear that the donor list, the property, and all of the assets of the Carmelite Monastery belong to the monastery 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. This includes their electronics and cellular telephone that are the property of the monastery and not of any of the individual nuns who are voluntarily bound to the vow of poverty.

In fact, the electronics and phone were requested calmly and given freely by Mother Teresa Agnes, for purposes of the internal inquiry into this matter that involved not only her, but also, as she alleges, a priest.

Several days later, canonical counsel for both the diocese and for Mother Teresa Agnes agreed on a framework to make a copy of the devices for the investigation. This was followed and the telephone and electronic devices were returned several weeks ago. They are at the monastery. Claims that I or the diocese have accessed Mother Teresa Agnes’s phone account, are spying on the sisters, and are privy to privileged communications between the sisters and their legal counsel are baseless, ludicrous, and not true.

Fourth, neither the Diocese of Fort Worth nor I have covered up the alleged wrongdoing of the priest. Sandra Schrader contacted the diocese where the priest was ministering and then contacted his superior to report the allegation of wrongdoing. In accord with my own obligation to investigate and to report misconduct, I spoke with the immediate superior of the priest, the bishop where he was ministering, and subsequently to the priest’s own bishop, and informed each of them of this reported violation and of the ongoing investigation.

When I asked the immediate superior of the priest to ask the priest to be available to speak with our safe environment officer, the superior informed me that the priest — on the advice of his own canonical counsel — refused to participate in the investigation, and that the priest conveyed to him that he would neither confirm nor deny his involvement. The priest’s bishop has told me that the priest is not currently assigned and that he has restricted the priest’s faculties. I am aware of no further investigation of the priest in this matter as alleged by Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach.

Fifth, since this matter was brought into the public through civil litigation and the media, individuals who are closely associated with the monastery have, on their own, come to us with information and evidence about illegal drug activity. I want you to know that this evidence and information was immediately reported and turned over by the Diocese of Fort Worth to the Arlington Police Department, which is responsible for investigating such matters in that jurisdiction. Claims that the Diocese of Fort Worth or I as its bishop planted these drugs are false and baseless.

As I stated at the start of this message, this very sad matter is an internal pastoral matter. It is a spiritual matter for the good of Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, for all the other nuns and novices in the Carmel, and for all of the faithful Catholics of the Diocese of Fort Worth. Who have been hurt by the salacious exploitation and morose delectation of these purported misdeeds blazoned in the media. Please pray for a just, peaceful, and merciful conclusion of this matter. Please pray for all the nuns and novices in the Carmelite monastery, for their health and salvation. Please pray for me as your bishop, entrusted to minister and to oversee this personally painful and spiritually delicate matter in accord with the heart and mind of Jesus Christ. 

The key takeaways from the video appear to be:

  1. Olson asserts that Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach admitted to her violation of her vow of chastity five times. He asserts that the fifth admission, given to him and other witnesses, took place the day before her surgery, not after, as the affidavit states. The bishop said she was “clear and lucid and had normal use of her physical and mental faculties at that time.”
  2. He asserted that “the donor list, the property, and all of the assets of the Carmelite Monastery belong to the monastery and are there for the care and sustenance of the Carmelite community of nuns and for their religious mission.” He said neither he nor the diocese are interested in taking their property or donor list.
  3.  As for the electronic devices and phone, the bishop asserts that they were requested and freely given by the prioress. Additionally, he said that “canonical counsel for both the diocese and for Mother Teresa Agnes agreed on a framework to make a copy of the devices for the investigation.” He also stated that the devices were returned several weeks ago.
  4. The superior of the priest in question, as well as the bishop where he serves and his own bishop, were notified of the situation. According to his report, the priest refused to participate in the investigation. He said, “The priest’s bishop has told me that the priest is not currently assigned and that he has restricted the priest’s faculties.”
  5. Following the publicity of these events in the media, Olson said that “individuals who are closely associated with the monastery have, on their own, come to us with information and evidence about illegal drug activity. I want you to know that this evidence and information was immediately reported and turned over by the Diocese of Fort Worth to the Arlington Police Department.” He denied that the drugs were planted by him or the diocese.

According to a CBS News report, Gerlach’s lawyer Matthew Bobo wasn’t buying the bishop’s account:

Bobo said Monday that in a Diocese of more than a million Catholics, the Bishop appeared to spending an unusual amount of time on the case.

“There’s clearly a bigger picture here, and its money,” he said. “It’s always about money and that’s what he’s after.”

Fort Worth philanthropist backs nuns

The most recent development was published this evening on the website of the Fort Worth Business Press, which shared that local philanthropist Shelia Johnson, who comes from a long line of Fort Worth leaders, has accused the bishop “of attacking the nuns as a way to get his hands on their real estate.” She is quoted as saying, “This is nothing but a ploy to get rid of Mother Teresa and close the monastery.” She explained, “My mother bought this land and gave it to the Carmelite nuns. She paid for it with her own money.”

The article explains that Johnson’s mother was a supporter of the nuns and purchased the land for the Arlington monastery. Her family has been a benefactor to the Fort Worth Diocese for generations. Regarding the accusations against the monastery’s prioress, the article stated that she “took the bishop’s accusation against Gerlach as a personal affront and she is adamant in her belief that the 43-year-old nun, who joined the cloistered order of women as a teenager nearly 25 years ago, would never violate her vow of chastity.”

The article also states that Johnson is donating to help pay the nuns’ legal fees. “I’m doing everything I possibly can to help,” Johnson said.

Olson admonishes Women’s Auxiliary in new letter

On Friday, a letter dated June 8 from Bishop Olson to Natalie Jones-Strand, president of the Carmelite Auxiliary (described as a group of women and families that faithfully support the nuns through a variety of endeavors on their Facebook page), was posted on the internet. In it, the bishop instructed Jones-Strand to withdraw an earlier email to the members of the Auxiliary requesting financial support for the nuns’ lawsuit against him. He wrote:

In your May 15, 2023, email to members of the Carmelite Auxiliary, you invited members of the Carmelite Auxiliary and other supporters of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas, to make donations to the Carmelites to help pay for their legal fees in pursuit of the aforementioned lawsuit against my pastoral office. As such, I need to inform you that this makes you complicit in their rebellious disobedience. Despite your best of intentions, this disobedience is further deepened in gravity of the Holy See’s reaffirmation of my responsibility and authority in appointing me the Pontifical Commissary of the Monastery, which places me as the responsible supenor of the Monastery. By doing so, you are undermining my very pastoral office and enabling continued disobedience in this serious matter — a matter that I can assure you that you do not have all of the relevant facts.

To this end and at this point in my capacity as the Bishop of Fort Worth and as Pontifical Commissary of the Arlington Carmel. I am respectfully asking you to rescind this invitation to cease all efforts to raise funds for the pursuit of this lawsuit. I ask that you copy me on the email by which you rescind this invitation.

Global Sisters Report article

Later on Friday, NCR’s Global Sisters report published an article by Dan Stockman with a fairly comprehensive analysis of the situation to that point. He fills in some important gaps, but also discusses areas of uncertainty and leaves some unanswered questions, including in the area of the monastery’s constitutions and reporting structure, especially why their monastery’s association (or anyone else in Carmelite leadership, for that matter) have been involved.

The reason for this — to the best of my understanding — is that the Arlington Carmel follows the 1990 Constitutions (the more strict/traditionalist one). Sister Gabriela discussed the differences between “1990 Carmelites” (those who follow the 1990 Constitutions) and the 1991 Carmelites (those who follow the 1991 Constitutions). She summed up the contrast between the two groups in terms of how the word “traditional” is understood in different ways: “we see that the word ‘traditional’ can have different meanings. Those who follow the 1990 Constitutions consider that they are traditional because they hold to the Constitutions that Teresa herself approved in 1582. Those who follow the 1991 Constitutions consider that they are traditional because they try to put into practice Teresa’s own return to the sources by practicing the discernment called for in the Rule and seeking to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout the day.”

It is difficult to glean from the internet which Constitutions the Arlington Carmelites follow, especially because there are references to them on old websites belonging to the St. Teresa Association — of which they were apparently members at one time. The St. Teresa Association’s website (which is made up of 1991 Carmels) lists “Fort Worth” (Arlington’s previous location) as a founding member, but they are not on the list of current members.
But I will note that in her affidavit, Gerlach quotes the 1990 Constitutions. In item 6, (pages 11-12) of the affidavit, she cites Chapter XIX, “Juridical Status of the Monasteries Erection and Suppression of the Same.” This appears in the 1990 Constitutions. See the bottom of the 75th page of the pdf of the 1990 Constitutions (p. 34 of the appendix). (Also see the tweet here for screenshots).
If they are indeed under the 1990 Constitutions of the Carmelite order, this means they have no official oversight from the Carmelite Friars or any other Carmelite sisters. In a 2022 letter from the Father General to the 1990 Carmelites, he notes, “In the number 133 of your Constitutions (1990), before saying that the 1990 Carmels do not depend juridically on the Father General (he has no jurisdiction over them), and that they have no other Major Superior over the Prioress, but the Holy See.”

I have been informed that Arlington belongs to the Christ the King Association, which includes the Carmels of Lake Elmo, Traverse City, Kensington, Buffalo and Ada-Parnell. Their president is Mother Marie of the Incarnation, at the Lake Elmo Carmel, and their Religious Assistant is Fr. John Mary Burns of the Hermits of Carmel, also in Lake Elmo. I have found nothing about this Association on the internet, however. Additionally, the Arlington Carmel’s website hasn’t been updated in 15 years.

Image: Adobe Stock.

Discuss this article!

Keep the conversation going in our SmartCatholics Group! You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Liked this post? Take a second to support Where Peter Is on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

Share via
Copy link