In a significant development, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, following an investigation by the Vatican into allegations of mismanagement within his diocese.
Newsdesk (27/06/2023 20:15, Gaudium Press) The 65-year-old bishop has also faced serious accusations in a recently refiled lawsuit, which claims he protected a seminarian accused of multiple counts of rape.
The lawsuit further alleges that Stika attempted to intimidate an alleged victim, a parish organist, into silence about the sexual assault, even accusing the victim of being the perpetrator. These troubling allegations prompted Pope Francis to review the situation and subsequently ask for Stika’s resignation.
Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre of Louisville, Kentucky, has been appointed by Pope Francis as the apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Knoxville until a new bishop is appointed.
The Pillar, a prominent Catholic news outlet, has been actively reporting on Stika and the allegations of mishandling sexual misconduct and assault cases within the diocese since April 2021. The outlet recently revealed that Stika had been under investigation by the Vatican, with unnamed sources suggesting that the Pope’s decision to request his resignation was based on the findings of this investigation.
Stika, in a statement announcing his resignation, expressed gratitude to Pope Francis for accepting his request to retire. He acknowledged that questions about his leadership had been publicized in recent months and cited his ongoing health issues, including Type 1 diabetes, vision loss, and heart problems, as significant factors affecting his decision.
The bishop apologized sincerely to anyone he may have disappointed during his tenure and emphasized his respect for all individuals, including his critics. Stika requested prayers and indicated that he intends to relocate near his hometown of St. Louis, where he hopes to continue serving in ministry at a more relaxed pace.
The Pillar’s investigations have also shed light on Stika’s close relationship with the accused former seminarian. The outlet reported that Stika provided the individual with substantial financial support and various gifts, surpassing the typical assistance provided to seminarians. Stika, however, has firmly denied any misuse of diocesan funds.
It is worth noting that an official apostolic visitation conducted by the Vatican in 2022 yielded undisclosed results, pertaining to the affairs of the Diocese of Knoxville.
In 2021, 11 priests from the Knoxville diocese wrote a letter appealing for “merciful relief” from Stika’s leadership, underscoring the internal discontent within the diocese.
Pope Francis’s acceptance of Stika’s resignation marks a significant development in the ongoing investigation and response to the allegations against the former bishop. The Church will now proceed with the appointment of a new bishop to lead the Diocese of Knoxville, while Archbishop Fabre assumes the role of apostolic administrator during this transition period.
- Raju Hasmukh with files from CNA