Abp Kurtz on his new role in Memphis after Bp Holley’s ouster

“I will not be making any major changes,” says the archbishop of Louisville, “but trying to create sufficient stability while a new bishop is selected.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty, speaks during a religious freedom event July 30 at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

In a statement on October 24, the Diocese of Memphis, Tennessee announced that the Holy Father had relieved its bishop, Martin Holley, of his duties as ordinary, effective immediately. Holley’s removal followed a June 2018 apostolic visitation to the diocese at the direction of Pope Francis, and “several efforts to restore peace and serenity within the same Particular Church.”

Bishop Holley, 63, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida in 1987.  In 2004 he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Washington, DC, where he served 12 years under the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Cardinal Donald Wuerl.  Bishop Holley served two years as bishop of Memphis, beginning in 2016.

The Diocese of Memphis statement also noted that Archbishop of Louisville Joseph Kurtz, 72, has been appointed apostolic administrator for the diocese.  Before coming to Louisville in 2007, Archbishop Kurtz served as bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee from 1999 to 2007, located on the eastern side of the state.  Archbishop Kurtz also issued a statement regarding his involvement in the Diocese of Memphis.

The archbishop spoke with CWR Monday about the situation in Memphis.

CWR: You are the former bishop of Knoxville, so you are familiar with Tennessee.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz: Yes. Tennessee is a rich, rich state.  It has three dioceses, and three distinct sections, east, middle, and west Tennessee.  Yet it is one, beautiful state.

I learned a lot about Tennessee living there, and I’m sure I’m going to be learning a lot more in the upcoming months.

CWR: What will you be doing as apostolic administrator?

Archbishop Kurtz: I will be the person responsible for the governance of the diocese between the former bishop, Bishop Holley, and the new bishop, whomever he is, when he is selected and installed.  I received my appointment from the Holy Father.

CWR: Do you have any idea how long you will be in this role?

Archbishop Kurtz: It is anyone’s guess.  The Holy Father needs time to hear of the needs of the diocese and to ensure that he is appointing the very best and most appropriate bishop for the diocese.  I’m sure it will be a number of months.

CWR: Is it difficult to run the Archdiocese of Louisville and administer to another diocese at the same time?

Archbishop Kurtz: I think it will be an adjustment for all of us. One of the things I did was to appoint a delegate to assist me, Father Robert Marshall, pastor of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Memphis and diocesan moderator of the Curia.  I will also be traveling to Memphis once or twice a month and spending some time there.  I will be also talking to people on the phone, and communicating through emails.  I will not be making any major changes, but trying to create sufficient stability while a new bishop is selected.

CWR: What do you know about the financial situation of the Diocese of Memphis, and how is it doing for vocations to the priesthood and religious life?

Archbishop Kurtz: I’m in the process of learning about these things, and I’ll know a lot more after I’ve had the chance to meet with staff and the diocesan finance council.  I understand, though, that Memphis has been blessed with a number of vocations.

CWR: Why was Bishop Holley removed from his position as bishop of Memphis?

Archbishop Kurtz: I have to rely on statements of the Vatican about this; I can’t speak beyond that.

CWR: In your experience as a bishop, is such a sudden removal of a bishop by the Holy Father unusual?

Archbishop Kurtz: It’s hard to know, as every diocese and bishop assignment is unique.  I can’t comment on how unusual it is, other than to say that sometimes there are changes.  As I told the people in Memphis, my task is not to deal with what went on before this change, but what is happening presently.

But, there are some other similar examples that come to mind.  In the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia, for example, Archbishop William Lori was just appointed apostolic administrator.  Nearly two years ago, Bishop Daniel Thomas was appointed apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Cleveland.  In 2007, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was then archbishop of Milwaukee, was appointed apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Green Bay in Wisconsin.  So, those are a few examples that come to mind.

CWR: What do you know about the findings of the June 2018 apostolic visitation referenced in the Diocese of Memphis’ October 24 statement?

Archbishop Kurtz: I’d have to refer you to the Vatican website, otherwise I’d be telling you what I’ve read in the news, which would not be helpful.

CWR: In your conversations with the clergy and people of Memphis, what are some thoughts they’ve been sharing with you about this change in leadership?

Archbishop Kurtz: We’re only in the very beginning stages of our dialogue.  I’ve been there only once, and I will be going back next week.

CWR: Were you surprised to hear of your appointment as apostolic administrator?

Archbishop Kurtz: Anytime there is a new assignment, there’s always a lot of surprise and adventure.

I am the Metropolitan of Louisville, which includes the seven dioceses of Kentucky and Tennessee, which is why I was asked to take on this role.  And, as Metropolitan, I have a special concern for each of the dioceses under my care.

CWR: Do you know what Bishop Holley will be doing now?

Archbishop Kurtz: No, other than that he is planning to reside outside of the territory of Memphis.  I referenced that in my letter to the people of Memphis.

CWR: In a recent Catholic News Agency article, Bishop Holley said that the “racism of a few priests” in Memphis was a factor in his removal and that “prejudice and racism” began to manifest itself when he began making changes.  To your knowledge, are there racist priests in Memphis who played a role in Bishop Holley’s removal?

Archbishop Kurtz: I can’t comment on his statement.  I’m just taking on the duties of an apostolic administrator.

CWR: What message would you like to offer to the faithful in Memphis to ensure them that the transition in leadership will continue smoothly?

Archbishop Kurtz: I don’t know of any place in the Church where things continue smoothly!  I don’t think I can improve upon my statement placed on the Memphis diocesan website.

I would add that I’m grateful for this opportunity to serve, and I ask for continued prayers, for myself, for Bishop Holley and the people of Memphis.

About Jim Graves 159 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.

15 Comments

  1. It must be difficult to come into a situation like this; I admire the good Bishop for taking this on. However, in the current climate of hoped transparency, his answers were vague and disappointing.

    • Yup, exactly….vague and disappointing. Which about sums up the Catholic Church in the United States in 2018.
      Such courage these bishops have!

    • The operative phrase here is “hoped for.” Bishops don’t talk, not at least if they want to remain a bishop. Instead, they warble in “church speak.”

      The only way you get any bishop to talk is with the help of a Federal officer from the Department of Justice, and now they’re going to sing.

      • And one or more of them just might sing. Imagine if a Tobin or a McElroy decides to flip to save his own skin from the “Church loving” Feds. That will bring down a crap storm the likes of which the bishop of Rome has no idea.
        “Take good care of me”, says Archbishop McCarrick, “and leave me alone in St. Louis.”
        Just imagine what he knows. Watch what you eat and drink, McCarrick. This Vatican plays for keeps.

  2. A puff piece with the usual palaver from an open-borders far-left Francisbishop. Where is an article that digs into why Holley was fired and where is the pope’s authority for doing this outside the norms of canon law?

    • Oct. 30th: Paul: A ‘puff piece’ – a ‘Francisbishop’ – what a profound and clearly defined statement. It’s time we started writing with clarity rather than offering comments with no facts. If you have information that denigrates Arch. Kurtz, please offer it in a substantial way, not with silly phrases.

      • Florence,

        Fine, I will provide “comments with facts” since you seem to be unaware of Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville and his long history of mendacity, deception, and sexual abuse cover-ups. May I suggest that it is your comments and attitude which are superficial and silly.

        The following appears as an editorial in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Archbishop Kurtz’s local newspaper, on August 29, 2018:

        “Archbishop Kurtz’s offensive and insensitive comments in a recent Sunday edition of the Courier Journal proves he is part if the problem of deceit and deception by bishops covering for pedophile priests.

        As stated in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s Report, “It seemed as if there was a script. Through the end of the 20th century, the diocese developed consistent strategies for hiding child sex abuse. While the patterns were fairly apparent to us from the documents, we also had experts review them: special agents assigned to the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group: Behavioral Analysis Unit III – Crimes Against Children.

        The agents identified seven factors that arose repeatedly in the diocesan response to child abuse complaints:

        First – Use of euphemisms: Mischaracterizations of assaults and misleading designations for the removal of priests for a complaint of child sexual abuse. Violent criminal sexual acts, for example, were often described as “inappropriate” contact or “boundary issues.” The temporary or permanent removal of a priest from service was often coded as “sick leave” or “leave.”

        Kurtz was quoted as using words such as, “sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic Bishops” and “those that have been hurt by these terrible situations” and “dealing with these issues.” Crimes were committed, children were raped and/or sodomized, lives have been lost, marriages broken and worst of all, faith in God destroyed.

        He also talks about fostering a safe environment when the Archdiocese of Louisville’s own training program fails to even include the word “priest” as a possible sexual offender. He talks about reaching out to victims; they have been saying this since 1993 with little, if any, evidence. Where is the effort to help victims/survivors heal, how about their families? Why are convicted priests still being financially supported? Why are there still people at the Archdiocese of Louisville that knew of the cover-up?

        Bottom line, Louisville Catholics deserve better, Kurtz needs to go and hopefully some other bishop can restore integrity.”

        Does that give you enough clarity?

        • Paul,
          That does not give me enough evidence. You have only provided the newspaper’s ad hominen attack on Archbishop Kurtz. Is there a cover up in the Archdiocese of Louisville that has not been reported in the media? Please provide more substantial evidence.

          • Google Archbishop Kurtz yourself and you will get the information you need. By the way, if you don’t know anything about him, why are you even commenting?

  3. The author could have pushed just a wee bit harder with follow up questions. Most were softballs not meant to offend this bishop.
    Dear Author: Those days are over. Very over.

  4. All of us are acting out on the basis of what we believe to be true at best or think we can get away with at worst. If there is a disparity between someone’s words and deeds, the deeds — not the words — display what the reality is. Watch to see how the words and deeds of the church align. Then, draw your own conclusions.

  5. “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (Rom. 12, 5) The comments that I have read here hardly witness to the belief that we are one body in Our Lord. They sound more like what one reads in political websites. Though I do admit that the grammar is better. Is this “God’s love [that] has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”?

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