As of now, the monastery continues to claim Gerlach has not committed any wrongdoing warranting her dismissal.
“In respect of the calumnies that have been published,” the nuns said in their Aug. 18 statement, the monastery wanted to “express its complete confidence in the personal and moral integrity of its Mother Prioress and in her leadership.”
What does it mean to be excommunicated?
Though both sides of the dispute have alleged abuse and bad faith, this is the first mention of excommunication.
Excommunication is the separation of an individual from communion with God and his Church and ultimately removes the possibility of the promise of heaven until one repents. It is the most grave matter possible for a Catholic.
Latae sententiae excommunication means that rather than a bishop or ecclesial authority formally declaring a person excommunicated, the individual automatically excommunicates himself or herself by his or her actions. Examples of latae sententiae excommunication include the sins of preaching heresy, breaking the seal of confession, or participating in an abortion. To be excommunicated, one must be fully aware that he or she is committing a grave error and willingly chooses to do so of his or her own free will.
For an ecclesial figure such as Olson to issue a public statement pronouncing someone has been latae sententiae excommunicated is very rare.
Monastery denies breaking communion
In the monastery’s website statement, the nuns said that though they “expect much rhetoric to the contrary” they “are breaking communion with no one.”
“We are simply stating that the abuse to which we have been subjected is so gravely unjust and intolerably destructive of the vocation to which we are vowed before Almighty God, that in conscience that abuse cannot be cooperated with,” the nuns said. “This is no rejection of any article of Catholic faith or morals. Rather, it is a statement that, in these particular and peculiar circumstances, in conscience before Almighty God, we cannot permit this diocesan bishop to continue his abusive behavior towards us any longer.”
Though Olson’s Aug. 19 statement said the Arlington monastery “remains closed to public access until such time as the Arlington Carmel publicly disavows itself of these scandalous and schismatic actions of Mother Teresa Agnes,” the nuns have declared their monastery chapel is open to visitors.
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“Our monastery chapel is and shall remain open to all who, in good faith, wish to pray there or to participate in the liturgical rites we celebrate, regardless of any protestations that those who have abused us may wish to make in this respect,” their statement said.
Pat Svacina, a representative for the Fort Worth Diocese, shared a statement with CNA Monday that said that before the statement went up on the monastery’s website neither Olson nor the diocese had prior notification of the monastery’s “dangerously rebellious decision by the dismissed prioress and the other nuns to reject formally the canonical authority of their superior, the pontifical commissary as appointed by the Holy See.”
“Bishop Olson asks the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth and all people of goodwill to pray for the Carmelites that they will stop their open disobedience,” the diocesan statement said, adding that “Olson and the Diocese of Fort Worth stand with Pope Francis and will remain faithful to the canonical process that is currently underway.”
This is not the only controversy involving Olson. Currently, there is a petition with more than 900 signees by a group known as “Laity in Unity” asking Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., to remove Olson from his episcopal office. The petition alleges Olson “operated against canon law on numerous occasions and has employed abusive language and vindictive actions against priests, nuns, and the lay faithful in our diocese.”
The monastery could not be reached for comment by the time of publication. According to the monastery website, the nuns will be in a retreat Aug. 20–27.