Audiotape Contradicts Carmelite Nuns’ Claims

News: US News
by Christine Niles  •  •  June 29, 2023   

Bishop gently questions; prioress admits to affair, apologizes

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FORT WORTH, Texas ( - An audio recording is calling into serious question allegations leveled by a group of Texas Carmelites against their bishop.

Church Militant obtained the full audiotape, which was aired in Tarrant County Court on Tuesday at a hearing for a civil lawsuit filed by the nuns against Bp. Michael Olson of Fort Worth. The recording was taken April 24, and features Olson talking with Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, then-prioress of the Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington.

Contrary to the nuns' claims in their lawsuit that the bishop threatened, bullied and "traumatized" the nuns, Olson is softspoken and gentle in his questioning of Gerlach.

The audio tape also contradicts Gerlach's claim that her confession was "coerced."

Audiotape of Bp. Michael Olson and Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach

She admits to violating the Sixth Commandment with a priest. Olson responds by saying, "I'm so sorry."

He asked to know the priest's name, and Gerlach was hesitant to answer before offering the name Fr. Bernard Marie of the Transalpine Redemptorists.

The community issued a statement Tuesday clarifying that Fr. Bernard Marie was a priest of the diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, and had spent only a few months with the Redemptorists discerning his vocation. He left in May.

The Transalpine Redemptorists were once members of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), but broke from the community and were regularized in the Church in 2008. Their first community was on the remote island of Papa Stronsay, off Scotland's coast. This is where the SSPX sent accused predator Fr. Benedict Van Der Putten, who was later laicized after multiple girls accused him of sexual assault.

'It was a horrible, horrible mistake,' said Gerlach. 'I'm so sorry.'

The diocese of Raleigh then published a statement clarifying that his actual name is Fr. Philip Johnson.

"Fr. Philip Johnson is not currently exercising public ministry," the diocese stated. "Upon returning to N.C., Fr. Philip Johnson's priestly faculties were restricted by Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama as a precautionary measure until more clarity regarding his status can be ascertained."

Johnson was well known on Catholic blogs because of his battle with a brain tumor as a seminarian and deacon. He was ordained in 2017, after his tumor had been on hold for a decade.

"I was beginning an exciting career as a naval officer with my entire life ahead of me. I had so many hopes and dreams, and in an instant they all seemed to be crushed," he wrote in 2014. "My life means something to me, to God, and to my family and friends, and barring a miraculous recovery, it will continue to mean something long after I am paralyzed in a hospice bed."

In court, Vicar General Fr. Jonathan Wallis confirmed that the prioress admitted to him on three occasions, beginning on Dec. 22, 2022, that she had violated her vow with a priest. 

According to Wallis, Gerlach believed she was falling in love and described the relationship as "consensual."

Wallis said Gerlach told him over the phone on Jan. 5 that she was going to see the doctor and was nervous because she was "late" with her period. 

"I took it as a potential pregnancy," said Wallis.

He had waited until April 14 to inform the bishop about the affair because Gerlach had told him she would report it to her superiors.

Nun Admits Wrongdoing, Accepts Restrictions

"Bishop, most of this was done by the phone," said Gerlach in the audio recording.

"I see. All right. Was some of this in person?" asked Olson.

"Yes, Bishop," she said.

Later changing her story, Gerlach said, "This did not happen in person at all. It was all over the phone. The priest did not come down here at all."

"That's something you've changed the story on," said Olson. 

"A little bit, Bishop," she admitted.

"Yeah, we have a hard time with the truth," he responded.

She went on to claim that at the time she was having "seizures." "I'm so sorry, Bishop," said Gerlach.

"It's ok. I know you are; I know you are," Olson said.

"It was a horrible, horrible mistake," said Gerlach. "I'm so sorry."

"There is hope for redemption," the bishop said, later adding, "Really, the sake of the whole Carmel is at stake here, you understand that, and I appreciate you telling the truth."

While critics have accused Olson of overstepping his authority by dismissing Gerlach from her religious order, in the audio recording Olson merely places her on administrative leave while the investigation is ongoing. He places certain restrictions on her, including no phone use without first obtaining permission from the subprioress, as well as no computer use or trips outside the monastery without a chaperone. 

He cautions her not to subvert the authority of the new administrator or to act in any way that could bring scandal.

"In accord with canons 1347, par. 1, and 1371, if even one incident or external action violating the restrictions is enumerated above," the bishop warns, "I will immediately initiate a formal canonical process for the determination of the truth of the matter and, if necessary, the imposition of just penalties."

It was only after the prioress filed a lawsuit against the bishop — a complaint that, in light of the audio recording, was filled with inaccuracies and falsehoods about the bishop's conduct during their meeting (falsehoods that were repeated by multiple media outlets) — that the bishop began formal proceedings to dismiss Gerlach, which he did on June 1.

In the audio recording, Gerlach, along with Sr. Francis Therese, who was present at the meeting, both accept and agree to the terms, at one point even returning the bishop's affections.

"I love you all very much," said Olson, followed by Gerlach saying, "We do, too."

"I love and respect you, Bishop," said Sr. Francis Therese. "This is the last thing on earth that we expected to have..."

"Oh, I know," the bishop interjected. 'Any of us are prone ... There but for the grace of God go any of us."

The Fort Worth diocese is arguing that the court should dismiss the nuns' lawsuit because it involves ecclesiastical discipline and therefore is outside the jurisdiction of a civil court. 

The nuns argue that Olson exceeded his authority, violating the nuns' rights by seizing their electronics and defaming them by his public statements.



Drug paraphernalia reportedly found

in Carmelite cloister

Olson released photos reportedly from inside the cloister revealing a room littered with illegal drug paraphernalia. While the nuns claimed the photos were staged, three insiders went to media to confirm that Gerlach was addicted to drugs.

"Yeah, we have knowledge that she has traveled out of state to get illegal drugs and brought them back to the monastery," said one informant to local ABC affiliate WFAA.

Gerlach had reportedly traveled to Colorado on a number of occasions, where they believe she purchased the marijuana and brought it back to Texas. Marijuana remains illegal in Texas.

The informants explained Gerlach has been dealing with health issues for years and they fear she may be abusing prescription drugs as well as marijuana.

WFAA verified that the sources spent time at the monastery "either by volunteer work or under contract." The sources confirmed they had witnessed Gerlach "under the influence."

"We're here because we need her to get help," one of them said. 

"She's very, very, very fragile, very fragile," said another.

Church Militant spoke with the Arlington Police Department, which confirmed the criminal investigation into both the nuns and the bishop remains ongoing. Its official response:

On May 31, the Arlington Police Department received a letter from a local law firm raising allegations about recent actions taken at the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity here in our city. In response, the department has launched an investigation to determine whether any criminal offenses have occurred, which is standard anytime a criminal complaint is made. Investigators are also aware of a public statement released by the Diocese of Fort Worth that alleges possible illegal activity within the Monastery. The investigation is ongoing.  


Arlington Police dismissed their investigation

into Bp. Olson

When asked whether the police were looking specifically into allegations of drug use, the police department spokesman answered, "Yes."

The nuns' attorney is denying the allegations of drug use: "Show me the proof. You throw out any story you want to. You can throw out any allegation you want to, just show me the proof."

While the nuns filed a criminal complaint against the bishop, the Arlington Police Department confirmed Thursday that it had dismissed the case against Olson as being "unfounded."


While the matter had been handled privately initially, the scandal exploded onto national media in May after the nuns decided to take the matter to the public forum by suing Olson in civil court. Olson then published a statement explaining that Gerlach had violated the Sixth Commandment with a priest outside the diocese and that the nuns were under investigation.

In their lawsuit, the nuns accused the bishop of abuse of authority and heavy-handed behavior that "traumatized" them, including claims that he bullied and threatened the nuns and seized the prioress' cell phone and devices against her will.

Gerlach, through her attorney, denied Olson's allegations that she broke her vow, claiming that he extracted a confession from her after surgery while she was under the influence of pain medication.

On June 1, the bishop dismissed Gerlach from her religious community. That same day, he reinstated daily Mass at the convent, which had been suspended during the investigation.

Rumors have circulated online that Olson's real motive in targeting the nuns was a money grab, and that his intent was to take over the property.

This led to Olson's releasing a video on June 11 addressing the accusations.

"I was told in April that the prioress, Mother Teresa Agnes, had admitted to my vicar general, Fr. Wallace, and to Sr. Francis Therese of the monastery, that she had broken her vow of chastity with a priest not from the diocese of Fort Worth," said Olson.

"She voluntarily made these admissions on four different dates with clarity and consistency," he noted.

She reportedly admitted it again on a fifth occasion, "in the presence of Sr. Francis Therese, Msgr. Hart, my chancellor, and Sandra Schroeder, the Safe Environment director of the diocese of Fort Worth."

He also rejected accusations that he was attempting to take their property or belongings, or that he forcefully seized their phones and electronic devices against their will.

"[T]he telephone and electronic devices were returned several weeks ago," he said. "They are at the monastery."

Olson also denied allegations as "false and baseless" that he or the diocese planted the drugs inside the monastery.


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