A bishop has threatened to excommunicate an order of Catholic nuns in Texas who banned him from their monastery over concerns of “spiritual safety” in the latest developments in a religious row over chastity.
The Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Arlington claim they “no longer recognise the authority” of Bishop Michael Olson after having experienced "aggression, humiliation and spiritual manipulation" as a result of his "attitudes and ambitions".
The saga began when the Fort Worth bishop accused one of the nuns of violating her vow of chastity earlier this year.
In June, Rev Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach was dismissed from the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, Arlington after her alleged confession to the bishop that she was having an affair with a priest prompted a six-week investigation.
The wheelchair-bound nun allegedly had her electronics confiscated after claims she had been “sexting” a priest from Montana and she was found guilty of “violating the sixth commandment of the Decalogue and her vow of chastity” by the Catholic diocese of Fort Worth.
Following the claims, the Sisters took legal action against Bishop Olson and the diocese. Their $1 million (£785,000) civil lawsuit accuses Bishop Olson of defaming, intimidating and spying on the order.
In a statement released this week, the Arlington nuns denied the claims made against their Mother Prioress and accused Bishop Olson of "shouting and humiliating" them.
"Our filial trust has been abused by the personal and public behaviours of a man who, in the pursuit of his unspecified personal ends, does not fear to shout at nuns or to humiliate them in private and in public when they protest that their rights have been ignored, who does not hesitate to violate their sacred enclosure through his officials, and whose actions in respect of personal property and privacy are more than seriously questionable," it reads.
The Sisters also expressed "complete confidence in the personal and moral integrity" of its Mother Agnes Gerlach, labelling previous statements made against her as false.
In order to "protect the integrity of our monastic life and vocation" against "continued abuse" the nuns stated: "We no longer recognize the authority of, and can have no further relations with, the current Bishop of Fort Worth or his officials, and forbid him or any of his officials or representatives to enter our monastery property or to have any contact or relations with the monastery or any of its nuns or novices."
In response, Bishop Olson has warned the nuns they may face excommunication. In a statement released on 19th August, he said the nuns public rejection of his authority "hurt" him and "cut a deep wound" in the unity of the Diocese of Fort Worth.
"It is with deep sorrow that I must inform the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth, that Mother Teresa Agnes, thereby, may have incurred upon herself latae sententiae,( i.e., by her own schismatic actions), excommunication.
"The other nuns, depending on their complicity in Mother Teresa Agnes’ publicly, scandalous and schismatic actions could possibly have incurred the same latae sententiae excommunication.
"The Arlington Carmel 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."
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano - known for publicising two major Vatican scandals - has spoken out in support of the nuns. Raising the issue to Pope Frances, Archbishop Vigano called the Sisters an example of "heroic resistance against corrupt power".