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Texas Carmelite nuns withdraw request of temporary restraining order against Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth

Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes of Jesus Crucified Gerlach, a longtime member of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, and Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, are pictured in an undated combination photo. The nuns withdrew their request for a temporary restraining order against the bishop and a national Carmelite association without explanation April 30, 2024, ahead of a scheduled county court hearing, which was canceled. (OSV News photos/courtesy Matthew Bobo/Bob Roller)

A small community of discalced Carmelite nuns in Arlington, Texas, has reportedly withdrawn a request for a temporary restraining order against Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth and a national Carmelite association.

The nuns filed the request April 22 after receiving notice from a Vatican official that their governance had been placed in the association’s care. They withdrew the request without explanation April 30 ahead of a scheduled Tarrant County court hearing, which was canceled.

Bishop Olson and the Diocese of Fort Worth, which includes the monastery within its geographic boundaries, declined through a spokesperson to comment on the matter. The nuns’ attorney, Matthew Bobo, also declined to comment at this time.

Michael Anderson, an attorney representing the diocese, told OSV News May 1 that the nuns withdrew the restraining order request via email hours before the court was scheduled to hear it, but that an accompanying lawsuit remains pending.

“The court will hear our plea to the jurisdiction on May 23rd,” Anderson said in an email. “At issue in that hearing is whether the court has subject matter jurisdiction to entertain an ecclesiastical dispute.”

The nuns’ action is the latest development in a yearlong public feud between the nuns and Bishop Olson that began after he questioned the competence and sexual morality of the community’s superior. In late April 2023, he visited the Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity to launch an investigation into those allegations. Amid the investigation, the Vatican gave Bishop Olson governance authority over the monastery, which the nuns strongly rejected. The dispute has involved both civil and church courts.

In early May 2023, the nuns sued Bishop Olson and the Fort Worth Diocese, alleging the bishop had overstepped his authority, unlawfully took monastery property and defamed its prioress, Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach of Jesus Crucified. They maintained that they answer directly to the pope.

In statements posted to their website in 2023, the nuns said the bishop and his officials were not allowed on the monastery grounds. They retained Mother Teresa Agnes’ leadership, even after Bishop Olson issued a decree finding her guilty of violating her chastity vows and dismissing her from the Carmelite order. The diocese also alleged potentially illegal cannabis use at the monastery.

Amid the conflict between the nuns and the bishop, Mother Teresa Agnes, in her mid-40s, revealed that she is in poor health and said she was questioned for the investigation while under prescribed sedatives. She has denied admitting to violating her chastity vow.

On April 18, the Diocese of Fort Worth published a letter and formal decree Bishop Olson received from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life stating that the Arlington Carmelites’ governance had been entrusted to the president of the Carmelite Association of Christ the King (USA), a small organization of U.S. Carmelite monasteries to which the Arlington Carmelites belong, and the association’s council. The diocese also published a separate letter from the dicastery’s secretary to the Arlington Carmelites announcing the governance change, making the association’s president the Arlington monastery’s superior.

In an April 20 statement posted to their website, the Arlington Carmelites called the decision “a hostile takeover that we cannot in conscience accept.”

In a statement shared April 23 with OSV News, Anderson called the nuns’ April 22 lawsuit “basically a rehash of the lawsuit filed last year.” That lawsuit was dismissed in court June 30, 2023, the same day local police announced they had closed a separate investigation into the dispute without recommending criminal charges against any individual involved.

“The only new part to this latest lawsuit is that the Arlington Nuns have added the Association as a defendant due to the Holy See’s recent decision to entrust the Arlington Carmel to the Association of their Carmelite Sisters,” Anderson said in the recent statement. “The Arlington Nuns’ decision to file suit on this basis is squarely at odds with an affidavit filed in the first lawsuit, wherein Ms. Gerlach testified that the Arlington Carmel only answers directly to the Pope. Apparently, this no longer applies since the catalyst for this new lawsuit was a decision by the Holy See.”