Texan chastity scandal and a 'hostile takeover' - the nuns defying Pope Francis

Catholic nuns in Texas are defying the Pope and could be excommunicated amid what they say is a "hostile takeover" of their monastery.

The row, which was sparked after the local bishop accused the chief nun of breaking her vow of chastity, has gone on for over a year and shows no signs of stopping.

The Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Arlington rejected the authority of Bishop Michael Olson and denied the claims about their Mother Prioress.

Now it appears they are even resisting an order from the Holy See.

So how did a small group of Texan nuns, sworn to a life of prayer, come to defy a Pope?

Claim of a broken chastity vow

The saga centres around a group of nuns who live at the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in the city of Arlington, Texas.

They are part of the order of Discalced Carmelites, a Catholic order established in the 16th century.

Under Catholic canon law, their community is considered to be autonomous and nuns renounce family in pursuit of deeper connection with God.

In April 2023, Bishop Olson, the diocese says, received a report that Reverend Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach had violated her vow of chastity with a priest from outside the area.

The Arlington nuns mounted a furious defence of their Mother Prioress and filed a million-dollar lawsuit against Bishop Olson and the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.

They claimed to have been subjected to "aggression, humiliation and spiritual manipulation" as a result of the "attitudes and ambitions" of Bishop Olson.

They also said they no longer recognised his authority and banned him and his officials from setting foot on monastery property.

Nuns risk excommunication

Bishop Olson said the rejection of his authority "hurt me as a friend" and with "deep sorrow" announced that the nuns were at risk of excommunication.

He called Mother Teresa Agnes' actions "scandalous and schismatic" but added that he was ready to assist her on the path of reconciliation.

Previously, the bishop said that "baseless and false claims" have been made and caused "confusion", saying that any allegations of "spying" on the nuns were "ludicrous".

The scandal even reached the ears of senior Catholic figures in Rome.

In May last year, the Vatican appointed Bishop Olson as the Pope's representative and apparently gave him "full governing powers" over the monastery.

But despite the intervention from the Holy See, this was not the end of the saga...

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Nuns in open defiance of Pope Francis?

That brings us to April this year.

Seeking to put an end to the feud between the nuns and Bishop Olson, the Vatican ordered the Texas monastery to submit to the authority of a Carmelite association of monasteries.

The letter to the Texas monastery, dated 18 April 2024, said this was supposed to "restore order" and the nuns were told to "regularise" their relationship with Bishop Olson and withdraw their allegations against him.

But two days later the nuns issued a fierce rebuttal, saying that the entrustment of the monastery to the Carmelite Association of Christ the King was "in effect a hostile takeover that we cannot in conscience accept".

They informed the Carmelite association that neither its president nor any of her delegates were welcome at their monastery.

In the statement, the nuns said they "accept without reserve" the authority of Pope Francis.

"We wish nothing more than to live our vocation in peace and tranquillity with and under the legitimate pastors of the Church," they added.

"We take Pope Francis at his word when he invited consecrated women 'to fight when, in some cases, they are treated unfairly, even within the Church… At times, by men of the Church.'"