The Vatican has compelled a Catholic bishop to resign after Pope Francis accepted his resignation on Tuesday in response to a series of complaints. The bishop claims that he is stepping down due to health issues, while priests in his diocese assert that he concealed instances of sexual abuse.
Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, tendered his resignation to Pope Francis on June 27. In a statement announcing his departure, Stika cited health concerns such as diabetes and heart problems as the primary reasons. However, he acknowledged that there had been public scrutiny of his leadership in recent months.
Having served as the Bishop of Knoxville for 14 years, Stika’s final two years were marked by controversy. In 2021, a number of priests in his diocese publicly protested against his leadership, alleging abuse of authority. They sought intervention from the Vatican, requesting his removal as a form of “merciful relief.”
Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, has resigned under pressure following allegations he mishandled sex abuse allegations and several of his priests complained about his leadership and behavior, sparking a Vatican investigation. https://t.co/xqalFgbZa8— The Associated Press (@AP) June 27, 2023
Stika’s most serious accusation pertains to his alleged protection of priests involved in cases of sexual abuse within the diocese in 2019 and 2020. Both victims have filed lawsuits against Stika. However, indications of issues predating these incidents have also surfaced.
In September 2021, a group of Knoxville priests addressed a letter to the Papal Nuncio to the US, the Vatican’s representative, seeking relief “from the suffering we’ve endured these past 12 years.” This statement clearly refers to the period since Stika assumed leadership of the diocese.
The Vatican responded to these concerns by dispatching inspectors to investigate the situation. As a result, it appears that Stika has been compelled to step down, with the Archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky temporarily assuming his responsibilities until a new bishop is appointed.
While Stika has officially submitted his resignation, the Vatican has not disclosed any additional measures taken against him. Stika has expressed his intention to serve as a priest in St. Louis, Missouri, his place of birth. However, he has also expressed a desire to maintain his residence in the Knoxville bishop’s residence. It remains uncertain whether the Vatican will grant him either of these preferences.