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Arlington monastery files amended lawsuit against Fort Worth bishop, Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth alleging theft, defamation

The suit accuses the bishop and the diocese of defamation and theft of personal property and is asking for at least $1 million in monetary relief.
Credit: Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns
Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach.

TARRANT COUNTY, Texas — An Arlington monastery in a dispute with a bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth has filed an amended lawsuit against the bishop and the diocese accusing them of theft and defamation.

The Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns filed the amended petition Friday, accusing Olson and the diocese of defamation and theft of personal property and asking for at least $1 million in monetary relief.

According to the suit, Olson forced Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach to turn over her computer, iPad and cell phone to him, which the suit states are property of the monastery. 

While the Diocese of Fort Worth has since returned these items, the suit states that they made a mirror forensic image of the devices, keeping the information on them, and refusing to return that information. 

"The information the Defendants hold is the private property of the Plaintiffs," the petition reads. "It contains, private correspondence, private documents, extensive medical records (a violation of the HIPPA laws), the financial information of the Plaintiffs, including but not limited to donor lists, the Defendants did not have prior access to."

The suit argues this is the private property of Gerlach and the monastery and that none of it is relevant to the canonical investigation which the Diocese of Fort Worth has said is now concluded. 

On May 16, the suit states, the diocese chose to go outside the "supposedly confidential ecclesiastical process" and make the matter public by releasing a statement that Gerlach had violated her vows of chastity with a priest from outside the Fort Worth diocese and had committed sins against the Sixth Commandment, as well as committing grave misconduct. 

"These statements were voluntarily put out in the public forum and are patently false and defamatory," the petition argues. 

Due to these charges, the petition is asking for a declaration from the court that the copied information from the monastery's devices should be returned and that the diocese doesn't have the authority to seize their property, nor the authority to access their private technology or accounts, nor that they have ownership over any of the monastery's assets. 

The suit also argues Olson and the diocese intentionally intruded on the monastery's solitude and seclusion, and that they wrongfully exercised dominion and control over the monastery's property.

This comes following a statement from the Diocese of Fort Worth that Gerlach had been dismissed from the monastery, which Matthew Bobo, one of the lawyers representing the monastery, called "absolutely unjust and unconscionable in the light of moral, canonical and natural law." 

"Mother Superior will be appealing this immoral and unjust decision that is not subject to canonical action," Bobo said in a statement at the time. "In addition, the civil lawsuit will continue full speed ahead."

Gerlach was dismissed following a decree from Vatican City, which Bobo also has disputed. 

Bobo said the decree issued is restricted to only the governing function of the Catholic Church. He said it has no authority over the law of Texas whatsoever, and that it should not affect the civil lawsuit filed by the monastery. 

"The unjust, illegal and immoral actions taken by Bishop Michael Olson in this matter have been explicitly outlined in the past few weeks, and the decree issued by the Catholic Church from Vatican City changes none of the facts of the case," Bobo said in a statement at the time. "We will continue to press on representing the sisters according to the law of the State of Texas, for which Bishop Michael Olson is subject to."

Bobo also raised issued with the decree itself, in that the case number and year in the top left-hand corner were neither correct nor associated with the case, in that the sister's monastery was incorrectly referred to as the Monastery of Saint Joseph of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns, and in that the nuns' canon lawyer has not received the decree, which is required by canon law. 

"All of these grave errors raise the issue of the validity of this decree," Bobo concluded in the statement.

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