Fort Worth

Judge hears testimony in dispute between Fort Worth diocese and Arlington nuns

Carmelite nuns fight for what they say are their rights

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The dispute between the Diocese of Fort Worth and nuns at an Arlington monastery entered a Tarrant County civil courtroom Tuesday.

Judge Don Cosby of 67th District Court heard testimony Tuesday to decide whether the civil court has any jurisdiction to step into the dispute between the diocese and the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Arlington.

The nearly six-hour proceeding included explosive testimony from diocese officials, numerous references to “sexting,” and drug use, and a 40-minute audio recording of a conversation between Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson and the monastery’s former head nun, The Dallas Morning News reported.

District Court Judge Don Cosby told The News that he did not expect to rule this week. “This is a difficult, emotional matter,” Cosby said. “I hope everyone respects that.”

The controversy began this past spring after the diocese accused Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of breaking a vow of chastity. After being dismissed from the monastery, Gerlach and the monastery claimed in a lawsuit that Olson overstepped his power by disciplining them and taking personal property from the monastery when they answer directly to the pope, and not the local diocese.

No cameras were allowed inside the courtroom Tuesday where a 40-minute audio recording was submitted as evidence. The recording, submitted by the diocese, is a conversation in which Gerlach told Olson she broke her vow of chastity, naming a priest from a monastery in Montana.

Speaking to NBC 5 from outside the courtroom, Olson defended his handling of the controversy and explained why he did not make the priest's name public. "Because I don't have jurisdiction over that priest," Olson said.

"I think it's a very sad matter," Olson said. "I don't think it should have ever gone to civil court. And it's just brought a lot of disunity and dissension here, and I just ask that everybody pray for everybody involved."

Olson said the allegations are still under investigation within the church.

Some of those inside the courtroom voiced their disagreement with how Olson has publicly handled the matter.

"It's despicable," said Sheila Johnson, a parishioner within the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. "As the bishop said he has 1.3 million people, but he has to pick on one nun."

However, Olson insisted he has not singled out the Reverand Mother.

"I'm not picking on her. This came to me," Olson said. "It also involves, by her allegation, another priest. So, it's not just her."

Other Catholics questioned if Olson is fit to lead the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.

"Bishop Olson just rushed to convict her, dismiss her, and throw her out; shows that there is no compassion on his part," said Kathy Osgood, a member of the Catholic nonprofit Laity in Unity. "He is not acting in a Christlike manner."

Osgood is among the nearly 500 people who have signed an online petition that calls for the removal of Olson.

"He is not fit for bishop," Osgood said. "He has caused too much harm, and we're asking for an Apostolic visit and investigation into his actions."

The letter is addressed to Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States. He is appointed by Pope Francis to oversee relations with the U.S. administration and with the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops.

The full letter can be read here.

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