A Follow-Up on the Carmelites who Sued Bishop Olson

A Follow-Up on the Carmelites who Sued Bishop Olson December 19, 2023

I would like to draw your attention to an excellent investigative report in The Texas Monthly’s newest issue, written by Nate Blakeslee. This report fills in a lot of the gaps in a curious story about Bishop Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth and his battle with a small community of Carmelite nuns. I wrote about these Carmelites earlier this year.

As you recall, the Carmelites were suing bishop Olson because he’d barged into their monastery and taken their phones, accused the Mother Superior of having an affair with a priest, and spied on all their private communications with their donors and friends.

Many people expressed consternation with the fact that the superior, Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, was accused of having an affair, since she’s been in a cloister since her late teens and is in a wheelchair on an intravenous drip for severe gastroparesis, but Olson revealed that he had her confession (not a sacramental confession) recorded. He later also arranged for the local news to publish photos of large amounts of marijuana edibles the monastery had allegedly bought, further humiliating the nuns (cannabis is recognized as a treatment for the kind of pain and nausea that severe gastroparesis can cause, for the record).  Their lawsuit against him has been dismissed because the judge deemed it a matter for the Catholic hierarchy to decide.

According to the article, it turns out that the “affair” that Mother Gerlach was accused of somehow having while cloistered, was conducted entirely through phone calls, video chats and text messages. During her cancer treatment, Gerlach had befriended a Carmelite priest who was also suffering from cancer. The two bonded over their diagnosis. Their entire relationship was conducted virtually. At first they were only good friends, but then Gerlach realized that her feelings for the priest were becoming more than just friendship and that some of the texts might be inappropriate, so she cut the relationship off. She mentioned her indiscretion to a priest who had been her spiritual advisor, Father Jonathan Wallis. Wallis betrayed her and told Bishop Olson about the whole thing.

Olson questioned Mother Gerlach as we’ve already heard about; the poor woman, who was recovering from anesthesia from a medical procedure she’d had earlier that day and was on fentanyl for severe pain, burst into tears and begged forgiveness for the indiscretion. She mentioned that she’d sent the texts while on heavy medication that made it hard to think straight, and the nun who’s been her fulltime caregiver confirmed to the bishop that this was the case.

The bishop used this as an excuse to ruin Mother Gerlach’s reputation, paint her as a doxy, and remove her from her position as superior.

Olson has denied that he’s only doing this because the convent sits on a large piece of land which could be worth millions to the diocese if the convent is shut down.

In any case, he never revealed anything about the Carmelite priest to the public, but Mother Gerlach was all over the news. He demanded that she step down as the superior and live in the monastery’s guest house; he also forbade public Masses at the convent to punish the nuns some more.

And, as the article goes on to demonstrate, this kind of bullying and abuse is not at all uncommon for Bishop Olson. Other Catholics in the diocese have rallied around Olson and he’s responded by doing his darndest to hurt them. And his vendetta against the convent is not his only vendetta. He has a history of bullying priests and laity in his diocese just to feel powerful. He’s shut down a beloved Catholic school just to torment the people who served there. The article lays out the case that he’s simply a narcissistic tyrant who has done a world of harm.

I am disgusted that another diocese in Texas is at the mercy of such a miserable, abusive stuffshirt.

I am fed up with bishops who are narcissistic tyrants.

I hope that Pope Francis removes Olson as he removed Strickland, though that seems a lot to ask.

My heart goes out to Mother Gerlach and the other Carmelites involved in this fiasco, and I wish them all the best.

 

 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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