Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Bishop Stika Resigns

 


Bishop Stika Resigns Amid Vatican Investigation

In a surprising move, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, who was under investigation by the Vatican for allegations of abuse cover-up and financial mismanagement. Stika, 65, announced his decision on June 27, 2023, citing health issues as the reason for his early retirement. He was the longest-serving bishop in Eastern Tennessee, having been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

However, Stika's tenure has been marred by controversy and scandal, especially in the last two years. He has been accused of protecting and financing Wojciech Sobczuk, a former seminarian who allegedly raped a parish organist and another seminarian. Stika admitted to The Pillar that he interfered with a diocesan review board investigation into the case, claiming that he knew Sobczuk was innocent and that the organist was lying. He also removed an investigator appointed by the review board and replaced him with one who interviewed only Sobczuk before filing a report.

The organist has since filed a lawsuit against Stika and the diocese, alleging that they failed to protect him from Sobczuk's repeated assaults and that they retaliated against him for reporting the abuse. The lawsuit also claims that Stika used diocesan funds to pay for Sobczuk's tuition at St. Louis University, where he enrolled after being dismissed from the seminary. The Pillar reported that Stika had given Sobczuk thousands of dollars in diocesan funds while he was a seminarian, exceeding the stipend of other seminarians and providing for his trips, laptops, and car repairs.

Stika has also faced criticism for his financial management of the diocese, which has been plagued by debt and deficits. He has been accused of overspending on projects such as the construction of a new cathedral and a shrine to St. John Paul II, while neglecting the needs of parishes and schools. He has also been accused of bullying and harassing his priests and staff, creating a climate of fear and mistrust in the diocese.

The Vatican ordered an investigation into Stika's leadership in April 2021, under the norms of Vos estis lux mundi, Pope Francis' 2019 document on handling cases of abuse and cover-up by bishops. The investigation was conducted by Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre of Louisville, Kentucky, who was appointed as apostolic administrator of Knoxville after Stika's resignation. According to sources close to the Vatican's Dicastery for Bishops, Pope Francis decided to request Stika's resignation after reviewing the results of the investigation in May 2021.

It is not clear whether Stika agreed to resign voluntarily or whether he was pressured by the Vatican to do so. In his statement, he said he made his decision "during a time when our Scripture readings, found in Acts of the Apostles, focused on the turbulent growth of the Church." He added: "Reading Scripture is good. It reminds us that the Church isn't perfect—it's human, but it continues to grow in goodness, thanks be to God."

Stika's resignation is a rare occurrence in the U.S. Church, where bishops usually serve until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 75. It is also a sign of Pope Francis' commitment to holding bishops accountable for their actions or inactions regarding cases of abuse and cover-up in their dioceses.

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Sources:

Vatican to ask Stika for resignation - pillarcatholic.com

 Bishop Stika of Knoxville resigns early amid Vatican investigation into abuse cover-up and financial mismanagement | America Magazine

 Pope Francis accepts resignation of Knoxville Bishop Rick Stika

 Vatican accepts early resignation of 65-year-old Bishop Stika of Knoxville, Tenn.

 Pope Francis Accepts Resignation of Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville and Appoints Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre as Apostolic Administrator

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