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FORT WORTH, Texas (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Texas court and a local police department have separately dismissed cases brought against the bishop of Fort Worth. A criminal investigation into Arlington Carmelite nuns has also been closed.
On Thursday, Arlington Police Department investigator Katie Beane confirmed in an email that the criminal investigation against Bp. Michael Olson has been closed as "unfounded."
"I will not need to interview Mr. Olson as a part of my investigation," writes Bean to diocesan spokesman James Suter, "and have closed the case out as unfounded."
The criminal complaint had initially been filed by attorney Matthew Bobo, who represents the nuns at the Carmelite Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington.
Immediately after the criminal complaint was filed, diocesan spokesman Pat Svacina issued a statement on June 8 blasting Bobo: "The mere fact that Attorney Bobo initiated and made a report to the Arlington Police Department was not unexpected given the aggressive manner he has litigated this ecclesiastical dispute in the press."
The Arlington Police Department also issued a statement closing its case against the nuns, after allegations of drug paraphernalia allegedly found on the property.
"The Arlington Police Department has concluded its investigation into allegations concerning the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity here in our city," the statement reads. "The purpose of this investigation was to gather information and determine whether any criminal offenses had been committed in connection to the ongoing civil matter between the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and the Discalced Carmelite Nuns who live at the Monastery."
"Following a thorough and extensive review by APD detectives, and in consultation with the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office, we have determined probable cause does not exist to file criminal charges against any of the individuals involved," it continues. "The case is now considered closed."
Lack of probable cause is not an exoneration but a legal standard that must be met before criminal charges can be filed. If there is lack of evidence, charges cannot be filed.
One day after the police closed its case against Olson, Judge Don Cosby of Tarrant County Court in the 67th Judicial District dismissed the civil lawsuit against him, finding that the court lacks jurisdiction:
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Plaintiffs Discalced Carmelite Nuns, Inc. d/b/a Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach and Sister Francis Therese’s claims, including all claims contained in Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amended Petition, are hereby DISMISSED for want of subject-matter jurisdiction.
"We are grateful for Judge Cosby's ruling today in dismissing the nuns' lawsuit," wrote Olson in a statement. "The decision vindicates our steadfast belief that this is a private Church matter that does not belong in the courts."
"This matter will continue to proceed through an established canonical process," he added. "Bishop Olson again asks the faithful for their continued prayers for the Diocese, Mother Teresa Agnes, and all of the nuns at the monastery."
The nuns' attorney says they will appeal.
"We are shocked, extremely disappointed and respectfully disagree with Judge Cosby's decision," he said in a statement, adding:
This decision indicates that anyone who goes into a Catholic Church in Texas can be required to turn over his mobile device, the Church can make a copy of all of its contents, keep them for an indefinite period of time, trounce private citizens' constitutionally-protected civil liberties, and that the Catholic Church may do all of this without any practical justification whatsoever.
"And not only that, but that a Catholic Bishop may publicly defame a Catholic to the media multiple times, and Catholic priests may freely manifest Catholics’ alleged sins to the entire world without any repercussion, either from the Vatican or the civil justice system," he said.
"We look forward to an appellate court reversing this decision," he added.
The nuns filed the $1 million lawsuit after the bishop imposed restrictions on the prioress, Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, and confiscated her cell phone and computer on April 24. The nuns also accused him of bullying, terrorizing and "traumatizing" the nuns at that meeting. Gerlach denied allegations by the bishop that she had violated the Sixth Commandment with a priest outside the diocese.
Church Militant obtained the audio recording of that meeting, which had originally been played in court on June 27. The contents contradict the nuns' claims.
Rather than terrorizing the nuns, Olson was softspoken and gentle in his demeanor throughout. Gerlach also admitted in the recording several times that she had broken the Sixth Commandment, naming Fr. Bernard Marie as the priest.
A statement from the Raleigh, NC diocese reveals that Fr. Bernard Marie was the religious name of Fr. Philip Johnson, a priest of the diocese.
In the audio, Gerlach admits there were in-person relations, but minutes later backtracks and claims it was "all over the phone."
"That's something you've changed the story on," said Olson. "We have a hard time with the truth."
Gerlach does not appear to grasp the gravity of her offense in the meeting, appearing surprised that she is being put on administrative leave and is no longer prioress during this time.
She and her caretaker, Sr. Francis Therese, however, accept the restrictions with docility, with Sr. Francis acknowledging, "I know that you have to do this as bishop of our diocese."
"Mother, what did you just do with your phone when I was talking there?" the bishop asks when he sees Gerlach handling her phone.
She claims she was looking at texts that had come in regarding mundane matters (e.g., a job post, getting toilet paper for the refectory).
"Ok. You didn't delete anything?" he asks. She responds in the negative.
"Um, sorry, I’m shaking so badly," Gerlach says.
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) — and after evidence of possible criminal activity involving drugs within the cloister — that the bishop began formal proceedings to dismiss Gerlach, which he did on June 1, after the Vatican authorized him to act.
The criminal investigation into the nuns was launched after photos taken by insiders revealed a room allegedly inside the monastery littered with drug paraphernalia.
Three insiders, vetted by local ABC affiliate WFAA, claimed Gerlach is addicted to prescription medication and is also smoking marijuana, which is illegal in Texas.
"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.
The nuns are claiming the photos were "staged."
A close-up of a package in the photo, however, reveals the address of the monastery, and the brick wall is the same as that featured in a photo of Gerlach.