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.