Courier Journal [Louisville KY]
August 18, 2021
By Mary Ramsey
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who has led the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville for more than 10 years, announced on his 75th birthday Wednesday that he has submitted his resignation to Pope Francis.
“The role of an archbishop is both to lead, to listen and to serve,” Kurtz said of his legacy Wednesday. “… I hope that I’ve been empowered and inspired leaders to take on the mind and heart of Jesus Christ in serving others.”
In the past, bishops were required to resign outright when they turned 75, but Pope Francis changed that rule in 2018. Bishops are still required to submit their resignations to the pope upon their 75th birthdays, but the pope can decide not to accept.
Kurtz has submitted his letter, and he will retain the title of “archbishop” when he leaves the archdiocese, Archdiocese spokeswoman Cecelia Price said in an email Wednesday.
“Usually an Archbishop will stay in the diocese until a successor is appointed by the Holy Father, which may take a number of months,” Price said. “We do not have a precise timetable.”
Kurtz said he will continue to serve the community until his successor is appointed and will “hold my excitement until we know who the next archbishop is going to be.”
While he may be resigning formally, Kurtz said he would continue to be a resource for the archbishop after him.
“I want to be as much of service to the next archbishop as Archbishop (Thomas) Kelly was to me 14 years ago,” Kurtz said. “He was a good man. So I had a good model to emulate. And I hope to be able to do that also.”
Kurtz is the fourth-ever archbishop in Louisville and has led the archdiocese — Kentucky’s largest Catholic community — since 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI appointed him.
Born in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, the Polish American religious leader attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia and earned a master’s degree in social work from Marywood University.
Kurtz spent eight years as bishop of Knoxville in Tennessee before coming to Louisville.
Kurtz was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Allentown in Pennsylvania in 1972 and would serve there for 27 years, teaching in schools and leading several parishes during that time and overseeing social services, diocesan administration and parish ministry.
He has served on the boards of numerous organizations. Kurtz was vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2010 to 2013 and then its president from 2013 to 2016.
Like other Catholic leaders around the country, Kurtz had to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year and faced pressure and questions during his tenure regarding the church’s response to priest sex abuse scandals.
“What I’ve tried to do is let’s not just say if there’s a problem or we’ve got to solve it. Let’s begin, first of all, by celebrating all the good that already is present, the half-full glass of water, as they say,” Kurtz said Wednesday. “And then as we do that, let’s build on that and address straight up the issues that are challenges.”
As The Courier Journal reported in 2018, Kurtz “came in as a warm and inviting man with a remarkable ability to remember everyone’s name,” with abuse survivors hoping he would help heal wounds in the archdiocese.
Previous archdiocesan leaders had allowed abusive priests to remain in ministry while silencing their victims, a practice laid bare when hundreds sued the church, winning a $25.7 million settlement in 2003.
After a grand jury in 2018 found church leaders in Pennsylvania protected more than 300 “predator priests” for decades, Kurtz led a prayer service in Louisville for victims and promised to “act decisively” on their behalf.
“It’s a need for us as a community to always repair and renew ourselves,” Kurtz told the Courier Journal in 2018. “The Church of Jesus Christ is one that requires us to seek to protect one another and that is my intent.”
But people haunted by childhood abuse said Kurtz’s public sympathy did nothing to heal their wounds or restore confidence in their church.
And they pointed out Kurtz retained Chancellor and Chief Administrative Officer Brian Reynolds, who in the era of late Archbishop Kelly helped negotiate settlements that kept cases of abuse from going public.
Cal Pfeiffer, the Louisville leader for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, told The Courier Journal in an email that in evaluating Kurtz’s tenure, “I believe it is important to note that he came to an archdiocese with a vast history of priests and religious men and women criminally sexually abusing children and a staff that knew of the abuse, were silent and participated in the cover up.”
“He could have and should have done much more to help heal the wounds of victims/survivors and disenfranchised Catholics,” Pfeiffer said.
In 2019, Kurtz announced he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer and underwent months of treatment in North Carolina. Kurtz has been in remission since January 2020.
Kurtz said Wednesday he remains healthy, saying, “Now, a year and a half since my radical surgery, I continue to be cancer-free and I think in good health. I feel good.”
The Archdiocese of Louisville covers 24 counties in Central Kentucky and counts more than 200,000 Catholics as members.
Billy Kobin and Sylvia Goodman contributed to this story, which has been updated.