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Arlington Police launch criminal investigation into ongoing dispute between Fort Worth bishop, Arlington monastery

Attorneys representing the Arlington monastery recently filed a lawsuit accusing a bishop and the Diocese of Fort Worth of theft and defamation.

ARLINGTON, Texas — After weeks of civil, canonical and in-person disputes between the Diocese of Fort Worth and an Arlington Monastery, the Arlington Police Department revealed Wednesday that it has launched an investigation to determine if any criminal offenses have occurred in the back-and-forth between the two parties.

That disclosure from APD comes in the wake of lawyers representing the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns filing a lawsuit against Bishop Michael Olson and the Diocese that accuses them of theft of private property and defamation as part of their canonical investigation into the monastery and one of its sisters.

"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," APD said in a statement released to media. "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."

The investigation is still in the early stages, police added.

According to the most recent suit filed last week, Olson forced the monastery's head nun, 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. 

"Just because you're the Catholic Bishop doesn't mean you're above the law," Matthew Bobo, one of the attorneys representing the monastery, said in an interview with WFAA. "You don't just get to take what you want and retain it. I absolutely think something criminal happened."

In its own statement on the criminal investigation, the Diocese of Fort Worth called the investigation -- and Bobo's promotion of it through a press release --"yet another transparent attempt to spread baseless and outrageous accusations regarding Bishop Olson’s legitimate investigation of the Carmelite Monastery."

"Attorney Bobo’s unilateral press releases are all designed to attempt to embarrass Bishop Olson and undermine his authority," the statement read. "Bishop Olson and the Diocese have taken the approach that this is an internal matter and should not be played out in the press... To be perfectly clear, neither the Bishop nor anyone at the Diocese have been involved in any criminal activity regarding the Monastery. For Attorney Bobo or anyone else to suggest otherwise is preposterous."

While the Diocese has since returned the items it took from the monastery, the monastery's lawsuit states that the Diocese 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) [and] the financial information of the Plaintiffs, including but not limited to donor lists [that] the Defendants did not have prior access to."

The suit argues that these items are the private property of Gerlach and the monastery, and that none of it is relevant to a canonical investigation conducted by Olson that the Diocese of Fort Worth has said is now concluded and resulted in Gerlach's dismissal from her post at the monastery.

On May 16, the nun's suit states, the Diocese chose to go outside the "supposedly confidential ecclesiastical process" and release a statement accusing Gerlach of violating her vows of chastity with a priest from outside the Fort Worth Diocese, committing sins against the Sixth Commandment and committing additional grave misconduct. 

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

Due to these charges, the lawsuit is asking for a declaration from the court that the copied information from the monastery's devices should be returned, and that the Diocese has neither the authority to seize their property nor the authority to access their private technology or accounts nor ownership over any of the monastery's assets. 

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